Read A Regency Invitation to the House Party of the Season Online

Authors: Nicola Cornick,Joanna Maitland,Elizabeth Rolls

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #Regency

A Regency Invitation to the House Party of the Season

Praise for
A REGENCY INVITATION

“If you’ve ever imagined being part of an eccentric, large family filled with secrets and idiosyncrasies, yet you still love those family members throughout it all, then
A Regency Invitation
is a book you’ll love…. Regency at its best.”

Romance Junkies

and for
Nicola Cornick

THE RAKE’S BRIDE

“…vivid detail…rollicking tug-of-war…subtle humor…”


Publishers Weekly

Joanna Maitland

MY LADY ANGEL

“…a Regency Romp tinged with poignancy…”


Romantic Times

Elizabeth Rolls

THE UNRULY CHAPERON

“…seductively sensual…pure bliss to read.”


Romance Junkies

NICOLA CORNICK

became fascinated by history when she was a child, and spent hours poring over historical novels and watching costume drama. She still does! She has worked in a variety of jobs, from serving refreshments on a steam train to arranging university graduation ceremonies. When she is not writing she enjoys walking in the English countryside, taking her husband, dog and even her cats with her. Nicola loves to hear from readers and can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] and via her Web site at www.nicolacornick.co.uk.

JOANNA MAITLAND

was born and educated in Scotland, though she has spent most of her adult life in England or abroad. She has been a systems analyst, an accountant, a civil servant and director of a charity. Now that her two children have left home, she and her husband have moved from Hampshire to the Welsh Marches, where she is reveling in the more rugged country and the wealth of medieval locations. When she is not writing or climbing through ruined castles, she devotes her time to trying to tame her new house and garden, both of which are determined to resist any suggestion of order. Readers are invited to visit Joanna’s Web site at www.joannamaitland.com.

ELIZABETH ROLLS

was born in Kent, but moved to Melbourne, Australia, at the age of fifteen months. As a child, she spent several years in Papua New Guinea, where her father was in charge of the defence forces. After teaching music for several years she moved to Sydney to do a master’s in musicology at the University of New South Wales. Upon completing her thesis, Elizabeth realized that writing was so much fun she wanted to do more. She currently lives in a chaotic household with her husband, two small sons, two dogs and two cats. You can contact the author at the following e-mail address: [email protected]

N
ICOLA
C
ORNICK
J
OANNA
M
AITLAND
E
LIZABETH
R
OLLS
A Regency Invitation to the House Party of the Season

THE FORTUNE HUNTER

Nicola Cornick

 

 

 

Available from Harlequin
®
Historical and
NICOLA CORNICK

 

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Prologue

Major Anthony Lyndhurst requests the pleasure of your company at a House Party at Lyndhurst Chase from 27th August 1819.

RSVP

July 1819

‘I
need you to do something for me, Peter,’ the Marquis of Quinlan said to his eldest son. ‘Damned nuisance, but there it is. Someone has to do it. Can’t do the job myself. Drink, you know.’ He waved a bottle of Canary wine towards his nether regions in a vague gesture of disgust.
‘Shocking for the performance. Makes me droop in my vitals.’

Peter Quinlan replaced the stiff white invitation card on the drawing-room mantelpiece, where it nestled amongst the other invitations to the final
ton
routs and ridottos of the Season. The Marquis of Quinlan was still welcome in some drawing rooms despite his propensity to drink the house dry. He never accepted the invitations, however. These days he seldom left the house at all.

Peter turned to face his father. The Marquis was slumped in a
fauteuil
beside the white marble fireplace. One of his hands grasped a battered walking stick; the other grasped the neck of the bottle of wine. He appeared to have dispensed with a wine glass and would tilt the bottle to his lips every few minutes. He was wearing a dressing robe printed with dashing hunting scenes and his tousled grey hair had not recently seen the ministrations of a comb.

The Marquis’s attire clashed frighteningly with the ornate painted cherubs and shepherdesses rioting over the drawing-room walls in decadent display. Neither Quinlan House nor its owner was noted for the refined nature of their decoration.

In contrast, Peter Quinlan was all that was restrained and elegant, as though he were unconsciously rebelling against his father’s excesses. Austere in a coat of dark blue superfine and buff pantaloons, he looked quite out of place amidst all the baroque splendour.

‘You have my commiserations on your affliction, sir,’ Peter said politely, ‘but I am not quite clear how I can be of help.’

‘I need you to marry an heiress,’ the Marquis said,
wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his robe. ‘Wedded, bedded, consummated all right and tight—’

‘I understand, sir,’ Peter said, before his father’s language became even more descriptive. ‘You have made such a request before.’

‘This time I’m ordering you,’ the Marquis said testily. ‘Never knew such a fellow for shilly-shallying! Need the matter tied up by the end of September.’

Peter’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. His father was determinedly avoiding his gaze and making a fuss of smoothing the lapels of his robe with a hand that was slightly unsteady. Peter felt the customary mix of helpless exasperation and deep pity. The Marquis of Quinlan had been drinking himself and his estate into the grave for years.

Peter had not realised the extent of the problem until he had returned from the wars four years previously. He had been shocked by the degeneration in his father’s health. In vain had he attempted to wean the Marquis from the bottle, even engaging the support of various physicians in the process. The Marquis had given them all short shrift, telling them brusquely that since the death of Peter’s mother his closest relationship had been with his wine cellar, and he intended to keep it that way.

Peter spoke with deceptive softness. ‘Why the indecent haste, sir?’

The Marquis shifted as though he was sitting on hot coals. He picked up the bottle, realised that it was empty and allowed his chin to sink onto his chest.

‘Bank…mortgage…foreclosing…no further credit…’ were the only words that Peter could distinguish from his father’s muttered reply, but they were sufficient to allow no misunderstandings. The Marquis of Quinlan was bankrupt.

‘How much?’ Peter said gently.

The Marquis fidgeted, but he gave a straight answer. ‘Thirty thousand.’

Peter mentally doubled the figure. His mouth set in a hard line. As heir to the impoverished Marquisate he had known that one day the promise of his title would be sold in exchange for a lady’s fortune. He had simply not imagined the experience would ambush him with such ruthless haste. There seemed very little to say. His father had sold his inheritance down the river and if he wanted to keep any of it he would have to marry at once.

The Marquis triumphantly drew another bottle from beneath the walnut table at his side and raised it in a drunken salute. ‘No need to worry, my boy. Made a splendid match for you! Bagged you a plump pigeon, don’t you know, flushed a hind from cover…’

‘Please spare me the sporting metaphors and come to the point, sir,’ Peter said. His voice took on a hint of self-mockery. ‘Who is the fortunate lady you have already secured for me?’

‘It is Anthony Lyndhurst’s cousin,’ the Marquis said. ‘Take a special licence with you, there’s a good chap, then all will be settled post haste.’

Peter glanced towards the mantel again, where the stark black-and-white invitation to the house party seemed to spell out his inevitable fate. Lyndhurst’s cousin. He frowned, trying to remember the Lyndhurst ancestry.

‘I was not aware that Anthony Lyndhurst had any close female relatives,’ he said slowly. ‘I thought the Earl of Mardon and his brother, that fellow William Lyndhurst-Flint, were his nearest relations?’

‘Cousin, second cousin, what does it matter?’ The
Marquis shrugged his shoulders beneath the riotous dressing robe. ‘The girl’s as rich as a nabob. That is the point at issue.’

‘And does she have a name, sir?’ Peter enquired, the very slightest edge to his voice.

The Marquis paused, looking slightly taken aback. ‘Name? I imagine she must since it is customary. Damned if I know what it is, though.’ He took a swig of his wine. ‘Bad blood in the Lyndhurst family, of course, but it cannot be helped. For a fortune of one hundred thousand pounds you could marry the devil himself with my blessing.’

‘Generous of you, sir,’ Peter murmured. He ran a hand through his thick, dark hair. One hundred thousand pounds. It was a huge sum.

Seductive visions flitted before his eyes. With one hundred thousand pounds he could rejuvenate the Quinlan estates and develop all those new-fangled agricultural ideas that so fascinated him. His father had once been a good landlord before he had bled his land dry in order to stock his cellar. After that he had pretended he had not cared for the country or his estates.

‘Gentry pursuits,’ the Marquis had said, gruffly, on the occasions that Peter had tried to tackle him about the neglect of Quinlan Court. ‘All very well for some country baronet, but hardly the thing for a Viscount. Leave it be.’

After that, Peter had done what little he could to alleviate the tenants’ difficulties. He knew his father disapproved of his interference. It seemed to him that the Marquis would infinitely prefer for him to lounge about town seducing women, reading the
Gentleman’s Magazine
and achieving absolutely nothing at all rather than attempt to rescue an estate that had degenerated
through poor management and old-fashioned profligacy. Evidently that was the role of an impecunious Viscount.

Peter’s vision of rural bliss faded. He could never buy such a dream on his wife’s money. Perhaps he was too damned proud, but it went against the grain with him. If he married an heiress he would touch only the smallest amount of her fortune to pay off the most immediate debts and make improvements to the Quinlan estates, and even that would offend his sense of honour.

‘I am uncertain what your objection could be to the Lyndhurst family,’ he said, recalling his father’s equivocal remark. ‘I thought Anthony Lyndhurst was highly regarded.’

The Marquis snorted. ‘The man murdered his wife! Very bad
ton
.’

Peter scowled, driving his hands forcefully into his jacket pockets. ‘That is arrant nonsense, sir,’ he said. He had been a young lieutenant serving under Major Lyndhurst at Waterloo and had seen his courage under fire. It was ridiculous to suggest that the Major was a murderer just because his wife had disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

The Marquis waved one hand, splashing wine on to the Turkish carpet. ‘No need to call me out, boy! I know the man is a damned war hero. I was merely repeating the gossip.’

‘Then pray do not, sir,’ Peter said moodily. ‘Not if you wish me to stay and finish your brandy.’

A half-drunk, half-mocking smile twisted the Marquis’s mouth. He nodded towards Peter’s untouched glass. ‘Fortify yourself, then. You will need it.’

Peter’s lips twitched. ‘How so, sir? What new shock could you possibly have in store for me?’

‘The bride,’ the Marquis elaborated.

Peter raised his brows. ‘Please go on.’

‘The chit can be no blushing débutante,’ the Marquis said bluntly. ‘All that generation are in their thirties. And it seems most unlikely that she is still a virgin.’

Peter took a mouthful of brandy. It tasted good. He resisted the impulse to take another immediately after. His father’s situation had always made him wary of drinking too much.

‘On what basis do you make that astounding remark, sir?’ he enquired mildly.

The Marquis shot his son a look. ‘The girl’s reputation was ruined years ago when she was caught at a radical meeting smoking a clay pipe. Dreadful outcry, as I recall. They blamed it all on her governess, but the chit was headstrong even then.’

Peter smothered a grin. He had to admit that both pipe smoking and radical politics were singular interests for a lady, but he could not see the immediate connection with sexual impropriety.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ he murmured, ‘but you will need to be more plain. In what way does the pipe smoking affect the lady’s chastity—or lack of it?’

The Marquis looked irritated. ‘Damned radicals! Illiterate, ignorant and immoral! They’re all depraved. Hiding behind hedges and plotting revolution! Damned unBritish!’

Peter’s blue eyes lit with a flicker of humour. His father’s politics had always been of a traditional persuasion, though he felt it was unfair to impugn his future wife’s honour on the basis of such flimsy evidence.

‘I think you may malign my bride, sir,’ he murmured, ‘yet even if it were so, surely she would still be preferable to the devil himself.’ He sighed. ‘Ah well, at least
with her fortune we shall have the money to afford to improve the ventilation to let the pipe smoke out.’

The Marquis stared. ‘You’re a damned cold fish, Peter,’ he grumbled. ‘Have you nothing else to say?’

Peter shrugged. ‘We have no money, I am obliged to marry and you have found me an heiress,’ he said. ‘What else is there to be said? I will take the special licence with me to Lyndhurst Chase once I have ascertained the lady’s name.’ He drained his brandy glass. ‘I suppose I should count myself lucky,’ he added. ‘I hear that Lyndhurst has the best hunting, shooting and fishing in Berkshire. His house party may be quite enjoyable. But for now I am off to White’s. May I call Sumner to assist you to bed?’

The Marquis slumped back in his chair. ‘No, you may not. You may call him to fetch another bottle from the cellar for me.’

Peter called the butler and went down the steps of Quinlan House and out into Grosvenor Square. The London night was warm, with a fading violet sky made hazy by smoke. The dusty smell of summer was in the air. Peter looked about him and ached to be away from the city in the fresh, crisp air of the countryside. Failing that, he wished to be reunited with a brandy bottle, and quickly. Be damned to his abstemiousness. He could drink a toast to his future wife. His lips twisted. It was rich that his father thought him heartless when it was the Marquis who had parcelled up his heir and sold him off like a piece of merchandise. But then, the Quinlans were descended from fifteenth-century merchants. Trade was in their blood. If he had to go hunting fortune, then so be it.

He turned his steps towards St James’s. It did not occur to Peter that neither he nor his father had spared
a single thought for the feelings of the Lyndhurst bride and still less did he imagine that perhaps she had even less desire to marry an impoverished Viscount than he had to marry a radical old maid.

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