She has been brought up in a Medieval world, he is an impoverished earl too proud to use his title. But she wants him and she has what he most desires – his lands.
Madelyn Alylmer’s father was wealthy and exceedingly eccentric – he brought up his daughter in a medieval world despite the fact it was 1816 outside the castle walls. His dying wish was for her to marry a man of title and impeccable lineage – Jack Ransome.
Jack’s father and brother squandered the family fortune and lost their lands. Now Jack, 5th Earl of Dersingham, is too proud to use the empty title. But Madelyn’s father acquired his lost lands and now Miss Aylmer is offering them to him. The only problem is, the proud Earl must accept her, a completely unsuitable bride, in return.
Can Madelyn leave her castle walls, cross the moat and enter an unfamiliar modern world? Can Jack deal with a wife who has no idea how to go on in Society – one he has been trapped into marrying? Can a contract to marry possibly lead to a love match?
‘There are no men of our name left. It derives from the Anglo-Saxon aethelmaer, which means famous noble. Our lineage stretches back beyond any recorded English kings, beyond any title of nobility surviving today.’
‘All families, even the humblest, could be traced to the beginning of time if only the records existed,’ said the man whose rejected title was a Tudor creation. She suspected that she knew the details of his family tree far better than he did. He shrugged. ‘We all go back to Adam. Some know more about their history—or the fantasies about it—than others, that is all.’
‘Our lineage is documented. All my father wanted was a son to hand the name down to, to continue the line, to continue his work. My mother died along with my infant brother six years ago. I have proved to be the only survivor of seven infants from two wives. He lost heart at that death.’
‘Is that when the obsession with this castle became intense?’ Ransome enquired coolly.
‘He was not obsessed,’ she protested. Father had been right, she had to believe that. Everyone was prejudiced against him. Even me, sometimes, she thought guiltily.
She had meant to rattle Jack Ransome’s composure, but it seemed he had turned the tables on her. Madelyn lowered her voice, forced herself into her habitual calm. ‘Castle Beaupierre is a work of great scholarship, an artistic creation, bringing a lost world back. My father’s entire life was dedicated to that.’ Surely anyone could see it? Even she, knowing the cost, had no doubts about the results and Jack Ransome was an educated man, he would understand what it had cost in time and money and devotion.
‘And were you a work of scholarship, a piece of art, to your father, Miss Aylmer?’
I was a disappointment. A girl. Of course I was not a piece of art. I was…I am…a failure.
‘I naturally supported my father. He chose to live in an age of chivalry and beauty. A world set in the countryside of England, a world of craftsmanship. Not in a modern world of steam and speed and cities, of poverty and ugliness.’ She knew all the arguments by rote.
It was clearly a polite lie. The face of the man opposite her was set in a severe expression that probably hid either a sneer or a desire to laugh. The fine lines in the corners of his eyes made her think that laughter was a possibility. She had no desire to be a source of amusement to him—in fact, she dreaded it, although not as much as she feared his anger. There was so much to be frightened of, but she was not going to give way now.
Madelyn controlled her breathing and made herself look steadily at Jack Ransome. Every report of him praised his intelligence, none spoke of irrational temper or violence, of ill-treatment of servants—not that he had many—or of either drunkenness or debauchery. He was in good health, a sportsman, which no doubt accounted for the breadth of his shoulders and the muscles revealed by tight breeches. He had turned his back on society, and in return society mocked him as Lackland or disapproved vehemently of his rejection of his title. But many of its members turned to him when they needed his help. He had friends, some unconventional by all reports, some very shady indeed.
He was dangerous, reports said, but they were hazy about who he was a danger to, other than the aforementioned blackmailers, presumably. The judgement was that he was ruthless, but honest. Stubborn, difficult and self-contained.
No one had reported on Jack Ransome’s looks, on that straight nose, on that firm, rather pointed, jaw that gave him a slightly feline look. Certainly there had been no mention of a mouth that held the only hint of sensuous indulgence in that entire severe countenance. Other than those faint laughter lines…
So far, so…acceptable.
‘You show no curiosity about why I have engaged your services, Lord… Mr Ransome.’
‘No doubt you will inform me in your own good time. Whether you decide to employ me or not, I will present your man of business with my fee for today and for the time I will spend travelling to and from Newmarket and for my expenses incurred en route. If you wish to expend that money on chit-chat, that is your prerogative, Miss Aylmer.’
Very cool. Very professional, I suppose.
Madelyn had no experience of dealing with professional men beyond Mr Lansing, her father’s steward and man of business, and he could hardly bring himself to communicate with her, he was so shocked to find himself answering to a woman. She had expected this man to show disapproval of her having no chaperon, but perhaps that was simply her lack of experience of the world beyond the castle walls, the place that held all her fears, her lost hopes.
She stood, glad of the table edge to steady herself, and he rose, too, a good head taller than she, despite her height. ‘Please. Sit.’ The lid of the coffer creaked open until it was stopped by a retaining chain, standing as a screen between Mr Ransome and its contents. Madelyn lifted out the rolls and bundles of paper and parchment that it contained and placed them on the table in a pile at her left hand, except for one which she partly opened out. She kept her right hand on that as she sat again.
‘What I require, Mr Ransome, is a husband.’ She had rehearsed this and now her voice hardly shook at all. In some strange way this situation went beyond shocking and frightening into a nightmare and nightmares were not real. Father had left careful and exact instructions and she had always obeyed him, as she did now. Even so, she kept her gaze on the parchment that crackled under her palm.
‘Then I fear you have approached the wrong man. I do not act as a marriage broker.’ When she looked up Mr Ransome shifted on the carved wooden chair as though to stand again.
‘You do not understand, of course. I have not made myself plain. I do not require you to find me a husband. I wish you to marry me. Yourself,’ she added, just in case that was not clear enough.