Read Marry the Man Today Online

Authors: Linda Needham

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

Marry the Man Today

What use is a husband?

Elizabeth Dunaway believes that the moment an independent-minded woman marries, her husband seizes complete control of her life. That's why she is determined never to walk down the aisle of matrimony. But when an unfortunate incident gets her thrown in prison, she has no choice but to accept a marriage of convenience to the insufferable, albeit handsome, Ross Carrington, the Earl of Blakestone.

As a gentleman spy, Ross often finds himself embroiled in scandals not of his making. But he never thought his inquiries into the disappearance of three young ladies would lead him to a notorious ladies' club ... or wed to the magnificent Miss Dunaway. Not many men would appreciate his new bride's rebellious spirit, yet Ross finds it both charming and seductive. Now he just has to convince Elizabeth that true liberation can be hers by surrendering to his passion and love.

Avon Books

Copyright 2005

Chapter 1

Tend to his every part in the bath, dear reader,
f
ondle his manly shapes, linger where he seems to most enjoy your touch.

Elizabeth Dunaway,
Unbridled Embraces;
or
Fifty
Proven Techniques for an Intimate Marriage,
18
52

The Admiralty

W
hitehall, London, England

July 1853

“From now on, Blakestone, you'll just have to watch her like a bloody hawk."

"Of course, Lord Aberdeen." Ross Carrington, the
fi
rst Earl of Blakestone, was finding it difficult to conceal a snort at the prime minister's unnecessary warning. "However, if I watch her any more closely, I'm liable to cause an international incident. We can't risk that."

And Ross had deflected too many of those lately for his luck to hold much longer.

"
Fine, Blakestone, but just don't let her get the upper hand in the situation."

"I won't, Aberdeen," Ross said, "no matter how outrageous her royal demands." He turned pointedly from the ta
l
l windows that overlooked the wide expanse of Whitehall and its bustling midday traffic to look at Drew Wexford, a lifelong friend who surely understood the royal mind like none other.

The man had married one two years ago.

Drew leaned back in his chair and laughed in that maddeningly contented, happily married way that had overtaken him. "She's not the least bit shy about asking for the impossibl
e
—"

"Exactly what I'm afraid of, Wexford," Lord Clarendon said, dropping into a chair. He picked up a troop report and fanned his wilted face. "We can't bend to her."

"Nor is she at all shy about putting us in one untenable position after another." The First Lord of the Admiralty launched himself out of his chair.

Aberdeen threw up his hands. "Never stopping to consider the cost of her conceit to anyone around her."

"Completely irresponsible," sputtered Lord Weldon.

"Mollycoddled at every turn!" Clarendon shook his fist toward the ceiling.

"Gentlemen, please!" Ross said through his clenching jaw. "Anyone would believe that we were gossiping about a beautiful woman instead of thrashing over the wiles of Mother Russia and her scheming tsar, Nicholas."

"Now, there's a pity we're not, Blakestone." Lord Aberdeen grunted, scratching at his steely gray temple. "At least with a beautiful woman we could dazzle her speechless
 
with
 
a
 
bauble
 
or
 
two.
 
That
 
bastard Nicholas wants the whole of the Ottoman Empire all to himself."

"Careful, Aberdeen," Jared Hawkesly said with a slow grin from the sprawling comfort of his chair. "If you value your life and your fortune, you'll never let my Kate hear you be so flip about a woman."

"Or my Caro," Drew added. "I learned the hard way that an angry ex-princess can be just as deadly as one with a glittering crown and an empire of her own."

"You'd best take heed, Aberdeen," Ross said, feeling singularly distracted by a curious noise drifting through the window. A clattering rumble from the direction of Trafalgar Square, though he couldn't quite place the exact nature of the sound.

"No need for your kind warnings, gentlemen," Aberdeen said, "I've partnered both ladies in whist and now refuse to play against them."

Deadlier than the male,
Ross was going to say. But he now found himself intrigued by the rising sounds in the street. He pulled aside the sheering drapes and, feeling like a lunatic, leaned partially out the window.

What the devil?

A cluster of people had formed up into a parade of some sort at the upper end of Whitehall. Now they were beginning to walk south toward the Admiralty. . Four abreast, six lines, a limp banner lagging between two of the marchers. And a half-dozen signs being jabbed into the air. None of the words readable yet.

Utterly amazing!

Because the mob consisted entirely of women.

"I just don't know what's wrong with these young ladies of today," Lord Weldon said in a voice as ratt
l
ing as the tremors in his hands. "Seem to have grown minds of their own. No respect for an old man's opinion."

"All the fault of permissive fathers, I say." The Lord Admiral clacked the bowl of his pipe against the fireplace grate. "Give a young woman an inch and she takes the whole of the street and half the curb."

Indeed, all of Whitehall.
Ross nearly laughed out loud as the carefully lettered signage came into sharp focus from the street below.

W
OMEN'S
R
IGHTS! LIBERTY! EQUALITY! SORORITY!

And in the vanguard, one sign was being thrust repeatedly into the air like a galvanizing call to arms, the most preposterous sentiment of the lot:

V
OTES
F
OR
W
OMEN!

Not only preposterous, but carried by the most enchanting woman Ross had ever seen.

Damnation, she was a lush bite of brazen womanhood. He could see the shape of her clearly, though not the fullness of her face.

Unabashedly golden hair, slashed with pale copper, uncovered and piled in an unruly knot at the back of her head. Bits of curls floated outward at her temples with the impetuous force of her spirited forward stride. All that glittering pride held high, her chin perfectly shaped, tipped toward the world she so obviously resented.

Her splendid bosom was a perfect prow for leading her flamboyant female armada through the shoals of carriages, wagons, and horses that now had to steam their way around them.

"Out of the road, you bloody lunatics!" bellowed a ruddy-faced driver from atop the bench of a wagon-load of baled wool.

Though the furious man shook his fist at the leader as his wagon wobbled past, the extraordinary woman offered no reaction. Unless one happened to notice the subtle smile of triumph that perched upon her daz-zlingly moist lips.

Or the sunlight that grazed the tips of her hair as she spun gracefully on her heel to face the stalwart troops behind her.

"Women of Britain unite!" she shouted, thrusting her sign skyward, rousing her followers to a melodious roar.

"Women unite! Women unite!" The chant became raucous as the women stabbed at the air with their signs and their fists. "Unite! Unite! Unite!"

"What the devil's going on out there, Blakestone?
"
Aberdeen asked from across the room.

"Sounds like the beginning of a bloody riot." Drew was chuckling even before he joined Ross at the window. "Ah, the fair sex at war."

"Terrifying, isn't it?" Ross said, glad that he'd been born a male in these modern times, because deep in his heart he felt a niggling guilt at the plight of women.

The quashed spirit wanting to be free.

The hidden pride of righteousness.

A heart oppressed and yearning for justice.

"Bloody hell, Jared, isn't that old Tosser Maxton's wife?" Drew gestured out the window at a youngish woman just passing beneath them. "There. In that huge green hat."

Jared joined them at the next bank of windows. "Can't tell, Drew. All I can see is the hat. And one hat looks pretty much like the next to
m
e."

But Ross had definitely recognized the woman as Tosser's wife. "And if I'm not mistaken, gentlemen, the woman beside her is Colonel Broadhurst's mother."

"Good Lord," Clarendon said with a snort as he gingerly peered over the sill. "Have they all gone mad?"

By now every man in the room was leaning out the bank of wide-open windowpanes, first grumbling at the interruption, then blustering at the outrageous sight of two dozen women marching down Whitehall in a show of all-out rebellion against men.

"What's all this?" Aberdeen bellowed as though from the floor of the Commons.

"A protest of some sort, it seems, my lord prime minster." Ross still couldn't take his eyes off the woman who was leading them all. Her shapely stride so vibrant, her shoulders thrown back in pride.

And so damn sure of herself, he could only stare and wonder who she was.

And wish for her to turn and look up at him, to share the fierceness of her gaze. Just a fleeting glance would serve his curiosity, would bank the flame that was licking at his loins.

He had a mad wish to know the color of her eyes, the depth of her spirit.

"Do you suppose these women have anything to do with that new ladies' club on King Street?"

"Ladies' club?" Ross laughed at Drew's outrageous sense of humor and then stopped as he realized that the man was serious. "What ladies' club?"

Drew turned toward Jared for confirmation. "It's called the . .. What is it, Jared?"

"The Abigail Adams," Jared said with a bewildered frown and a shake of his head. "Named, I suppose, for the wife of John Adams, who was the second pre
s
—"

"—
t
he second president of the United States. Yes, yes, I know who the woman was, Jared. What I want to know is, why?"

"Why Abigail Adams?" Drew shrugged and sighed. "Don't ask me."

"I mean why a ladies' club particularly?" Flaunting their revolutionary notions right under the noses of every man in London. Spoiling for an unwinnable fight.

Impatient for no earthly reason, Ross leaned out the window to take another look at the ragtag parade and its wily leader. But they were disappearing around the gentle bend in Whitehall. And his heart dipped, slowed from an acceleration he'd not noticed until now.

"Modern women." The very elderly Lord Weldon tsked and shook his head as he toddled back toward his chair and sat down. "What's the world coming to, I wonder?"

"And what do you suppose the betting book at this club looks like, Jared?" Drew leaned back against the windowsill. "Has it a needlework cover, I wonder, dripping with pale roses and leaping fawns?"

"More's the point, Drew," Jared said, obviously toying with the older men in the room, unconcerned himself, for his own wife was as independent minded as the summer wind, "what do you suppose the women find to bet on? When Mrs. Hume will deliver Mr. Hume of a son and heir?"

"Or how long it will take for their eccles cakes to properly rise."

"That's just the kind of trouble I need, gentlemen," Aberdeen said, gesturing toward the street as he returned to the table.

"Meaning what, Aberdeen?" Ross asked, one eye still on the traffic in Whitehall, reluctant to turn from the window completely for what he might miss below. "Upper class women forming a ladies' club and marching on Westminster in broad daylight, demanding we free them from the prison of their husbands, who just happen to be members of the Lords."

"And members of the Huntsman," Drew added.

Jared joined in the fray. "And Boodles and the Carlton and Travelers."

"You see what I mean, lads. Add women marching in the street to rumors of a war with Russia splattered across every newspaper and discussed in every parlor across the kingdom and that gives me a headache." Aberdeen gripped the ladder back of his chair with spidery hands as shaky as his hold on the coalition of his government. "Trouble on every front, domestic and foreign."

A man in conflict with himself, and a world on the brink of a far-reaching war.

"If it's any consolation, Aberdeen"—
R
oss handed the man a fleet position char
t
— "we can lay the blame almost entirely on that bloody, usurping Emperor Napoleon. He stirs up a hornets' nest in the Bosporus, taunts Nicholas into a frenzy by moving his fleet ever closer to the Black Sea. Then coddles the Sultan of Turkey when she screams bloody murder every time Russia herself threatens to overrun her territories."

Ross could see it all coming, an international avalanche roaring downhill, day by day. One he could only hope wouldn't overtake them all.

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