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Authors: Kathryn Kirkwood

Match For Melissa

BOOK: Match For Melissa
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A WALTZ FOR MELISSA

“Others have hunted me and I have successfully escaped their lures.” The Duke of Oakwood’s words were light and teasing. “Do you not regard me as a worthy catch?”

“Hardly, sir! You must remember the company I keep is exalted and my mythical companions would regard you with a sad lack of esteem,” Melissa said. “Their regard is limited to those who have slain armies with a single blow, tamed the lightning to do their bidding, and ridden on the back of the wind.”

The duke laughed again, his sense of humor completely restored. “Give me your hand, my goddess, and I shall escort you back to the ballroom. Once there I shall show you how to tame the tabbies of the
ton
. It is said to be a far greater task than slaying dragons or commanding the waves.”

“Alas, I cannot go with you, sir.” Melissa sensed that he was about to reach out to grasp her hand and she pulled back quickly. “I am certain I should enjoy it immensely, but my time on this earth is fleeting and my duties are many. I fear you must leave me now.”

The orchestra began to play another waltz and he shook his head. “Not quite yet, my famed goddess. Dear Diana, will you give me the pleasure of being my partner in this waltz?”

Bowing low, he extended his arm to Melissa. She hesitated for only the briefest of moments and then she took his arm. There could be no harm in dancing with this delightful stranger. He did not know her identity, nor she his.

Melissa’s heart began to beat faster as he held her in the darkness and they began to dance, fitting into each other’s arms and matching their steps perfectly. It was a magical moment and Melissa was certain she would remember it for the rest of her life…

ZEBRA BOOKS are published by

Kensington Publishing Corp.
850 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Copyright © 1998 by Joanne Fluke

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the Publisher and neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

Zebra and the Z logo Reg. U S. Pat. & TM Off.

eISBN-13: 978-1-4201-2451-4
eISBN-10: 1-4201-2451-X

First Printing: July, 1998
10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

For John Scognamiglio, Duke of Kensington

(With many thanks to Lady Lyn)

This book is for my wonderful daughters, Michelle Swensen, Andrea Swensen Todd, and Hannah Swensen.

Acknowledgments:

Hugs and kisses to my adorable grandchildren, Tracey and Bethany.

Special thanks to my friend, Carrie Rhodes, who took over the workload at our antique store, Granny’s Attic, while I wrote.

Many thanks to the Lake Eden Regency Romance Club for piquing my interest in this genre.

Thank you to superb psychologist, Doctor Nancy Schmidt at Lake Eden Community College, for advising me on the relationships between Melissa and her two step-sisters.

Heartfelt thanks to fellow writer, Joanne Fluke, for shepherding me through the writing process.

Last and certainly not least, thank you to all my friends and neighbors in Lake Eden, Minnesota, the friendliest place to live.

One

Melissa Harrington shifted uneasily in one of the expensive new chairs that formed a group under the tall narrow windows of Harrington Manor’s Morning Room. There were three such chairs, upholstered in rose-colored velvet, with a matching sofa placed in opposition and affording a view of the manor’s formal flower garden. Melissa had chosen her seat deliberately, selecting the chair in the center. Her choice placed her back to the pleasant aspect of multi-colored flowers in splendid bloom, but she had an unobstructed view of the doorway and the hall beyond.

The Ormolu clock on the mantelpiece chimed the hour and Melissa sighed as she counted eleven silvery peals. The clock was another recent acquisition. The hand-painted roses that decorated its face matched the color of the new draperies exactly. The furnishings of Harrington Manor’s Morning Room were quite lovely. Melissa’s stepmother had chosen them and Jane, Lady Harrington, had impeccable taste. But Melissa suspected that the cost of the recent refurbishment to a once-comfortable and presentable room had been excessively dear and totally unnecessary.

As Melissa watched the dainty hands of the clock create an ever-lengthening arc, she frowned. The summons from her stepmother had come a full hour ago. She had no doubt that her two stepsisters had received the same summons and that they
would appear in short order. Much was at stake for their collective fate was to be decided this morning.

The new chairs were lovely, but exceedingly uncomfortable. Melissa rose to her feet and paced across the rose and blue patterned Aubusson carpet to the bevel-edged mirror that hung in pride of place over the mantel. The mirror was imported and had been procured at great expense. It was made of the finest Italian glass and had been etched with a border of trailing roses around its circumference. Melissa agreed that it was indeed lovely, but she feared her stepmother had paid far too much for the glass.

The mirror was too high to be of much use, but by standing on tiptoe, Melissa could manage to view her face. Although some shorter tendrils of curly hair had escaped, the majority of her glossy, midnight-black tresses were still neatly confined to the twist she had fashioned at the nape of her neck.

Her manner of dress was appropriate, Melissa was certain. She had donned the very best her clothes press had to offer for this all-important family gathering. It was an afternoon dress that had been fashioned for her three years past, only a sennight before her father’s death. The baron had insisted that it was time his daughter cease wearing the cast-off clothing of her elder stepsisters, Regina and Dorothea, and had ordered that Melissa be presented with a gown that was suited to her exclusively. It was to be the first of many such gowns that would herald Melissa’s Season in London.

Melissa smiled at the fond memory. Jane had objected, claiming it was not seemly for Melissa to come out until Regina and Dorothea had experienced their First Seasons, but her father had put his foot down firmly and refused to be budged. He had decided that all three girls should be launched simultaneously and no argument that Jane had presented had swayed him from his stand. In the end Jane had agreed, albeit reluctantly, and arrangements had been set in motion to introduce Melissa, Regina, and Dorothea to the glittering world of the
ton.

Melissa smoothed her hand across the soft muslin of her
dress. The sea-green color matched her eyes perfectly and the vivid hue set off her flawless white skin. The tightly-fitted bodice accented feminine curves that had been merely a budding promise when her gown had been fashioned, but Melissa’s own nimble fingers had let out the seams and altered the lovely frock to her mature figure.

Melissa’s glorious First Season had never come to pass. The sea-green gown had not yet been delivered when tragedy had struck. Melissa’s father had died quite suddenly in a carriage accident, and the baron’s family had all gone into the appropriate mourning. Propriety had demanded that their plans for the Season be canceled, and Melissa had been so stricken with grief over the death of her father, she’d given no more than a fleeting thought to the parties, routs, and Venetian Breakfasts she had missed. She had assumed that there would be another Season, another time to dance and be gay, when the family had recovered from its devastating loss.

But when the following Season had come, there had been other, more pressing concerns. The primary of these had been financial. The baron’s title and his holdings had passed to his male heir, a distant cousin Melissa had barely known. This Melissa had expected. But her father had settled Harrington Manor and its surrounding lands to Lady Harrington for her lifetime. It was clear he’d assumed that his second wife would care for Melissa until she married, but this was not the way the wind blew. The lands provided ample revenues, but the Widow Harrington’s expenses had been extraordinary. There had been new gowns for Jane, Regina, and Dorothea, new furnishings for the manor, and the expense of frequent and lavish entertaining. Though she had no real proof, Melissa suspected that her father’s merry widow was squandering the money that had been intended for Melissa’s support.

Melissa sat down in her chair once more. There was nothing to be done, no action she could take to set things in a more equitable favor. By the terms of her husband’s will, Jane was in control of the purse strings. If Melissa objected, or had the
audacity to request an accounting, it would serve no purpose other than to incur her stepmother’s disfavor.

The hands of the clock had reached the quarter hour. Melissa sighed once again and remembered the past year, when Regina and Dorothea had enjoyed the pleasures of their First Season. There hadn’t been enough money for Melissa to have a Season as well, but Jane had explained that since Regina and Dorothea were older than Melissa was, they should receive first preference.

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