Healing the Arrogant Earl (Preview)


London, 1804

 Love was in copious supply for Jessie during her carefree childhood, most often in the form of her two closest friends, Abigail, and Anthony. As her family’s nearest neighbors, the three had grown up together. With the Clarks spending their summer at their country estate, Jessie had the happy pleasure of an invitation to join them. Her mother had constantly reminded her how lucky she was to be the recipient of favors by such a prestigious family.

None of that mattered to Jessie.

These were her best friends, and that was all she cared about.

Spring was only just transitioning into summer, and the air was hot and humid that day. Jessie smiled at the feel of the sun on her skin and watched her two best friends as they chased each other endlessly. The trio had been out here for hours, even missing lunch.

Her mother would chide her undoubtedly for growing too dark and tan, but she didn’t care. Though fair skin was fashionable and tan skin was frowned upon, Jessie didn’t worry about the opinions of others. As she soaked up the rays, it couldn’t have been farther from her mind.

Today everything was perfect.

Jessie let out a girlish laugh as she scrambled up into the treehouse that her best friend’s father had built. The summer air was redolent with the scent of roses, and the young blonde girl inhaled the fragrance deeply.

“You can’t catch me,” the 11-year-old giggled, glancing back at Abigail, who was her junior by a year.

Abigail shook her head in denial. “You will not best me,” the other girl laughed. Her dark brown hair was wild and flew around her face as she pursued Jessie. “I shall be the victor.”

“I think not,” the third member of the party, Anthony, declared. His eyes appeared a deep shade of hazelnut in the afternoon light. Jessie had often noticed the sparkle in those eyes.

“Oh, you think you can win, Brother?” Abigail challenged her older sibling. Glaring, she shook her head. “This is my game, and I am determined to succeed.”

Hopping down from the treehouse, Jessie threw her arms into the air. “Neither of you will be the victor,” she said softly. “As I shall win!”

With that, she launched away, diving, and darting behind the cover of the trees as her friends dashed after her. Anthony pursued her determinedly, his hands skimming her back as he came within inches of collaring her. Diving away, she managed to evade him. His foot sprang out to block her, but she leaped over it.

“I do believe you’re trying to cheat, Anthony Clark!” Jessie exclaimed in mock horror.

Anthony grinned boyishly. “Would I do such a thing?” he chuckled innocently, raking a hand through his dark blond hair.

“I wouldn’t put it past you!” she shot back with a giggle.

“He’s far too competitive,” his sister chimed in from behind a tree. “Probably because he’s such a sore loser. You’ve never seen such a crybaby as when my brother fails to win.”

“I resent that!” Anthony protested in offense, rushing toward his sister’s hiding place.

Jessie smiled at her friends, lovingly shaking her head at their antics. Their melodic laughter rang out loudly in the woodland that surrounded the Earl of Plymouth’s vast estate.

Jessie had often thought her friends’ father must have been the richest man in England to possess such a large home with these majestic grounds. Her own home was more modest, so she loved to visit this place. It was always filled with fun and laughter. Sometimes, she envied her friends for having a sibling. As an only child, she had not been blessed with such fortune.

Jessie completed another lap around the tree in which the treehouse sat. Grabbing the bark of the tree, she attempted to pull herself back into the treehouse, but suddenly her foot slipped and she lost her balance. A scream escaped from her lips as she tumbled the short distance to the ground and landed awkwardly on her foot.

The instant her foot touched the ground, Jessie knew that something was seriously wrong. Pain cascaded through her leg, and she felt the prickling of tears at the back of her eyes.

“Abby! Anthony!” she called out hoarsely, cradling her leg.

In an instant, Anthony was at her side, brushing her matted blonde curls from her forehead. His face was contorted in concern, and she knew the injury must be bad from the horror etched into his expression. The older boy dropped to his knees beside her, his fingers running over her tender leg. He clasped her hand tightly, and their fingers intertwined. He offered her a reassuring smile, wordlessly promising her that she would be alright.

“Is it your foot?” Abigail asked worriedly, wringing her hands together as she peered over her brother.

Jessie’s breath hitched painfully in her chest. “My leg hurts,” she gasped, screwing her blue eyes shut. “The pain- I can barely breathe.”

Hot tears trailed down her cheeks, and she gritted her teeth to ward off the pain. It was like nothing she had ever experienced. Tiny shards of agony shot through every nerve in her leg. Jessie heard an inhuman howling and suspected it may have spilled from her lips.

“Brother, we simply must do something!” Abigail shrieked, visibly starting to panic.

Anthony bobbed his head in agreement. Without a word, the 13-year-old boy scooped Jessie into his sturdy arms and strode toward the house. Her arms wound around his neck as she clung to him, breathing in the comforting scent of his chest. Despite the pain, she felt safe, calm, and protected in his hold. Every movement made her leg ache, but she focused on the way his arms felt around her instead of the pain.

The moment the three friends reached the house, chaos set in. A servant was sent to fetch the physician, and the surgeon while the countess fussed endlessly over Jessie. Anthony’s mother was a kind soul, but she was far from calm. The worry in her eyes was evident as she instructed another servant to alert Jessie’s parents to the accident.

It was only hours later after the surgeon had set her leg and the physician had assured her that she would be fine, that Jessie finally had a chance to relax. Her parents had been and gone, agreeing to allow her to remain in the house for the next few days.

“How could you be so foolish?” her mother had asked. “What will the Earl and Countess of Plymouth think of you?”

 “It was an accident,” Jessie had sobbed, mournfully soaking in her mother’s disdainful expression.

 Lady Allen had shaken her head. “They extend a kind invitation to you, and you repay them by causing all this disruption. This doesn’t look good for our family. What a clumsy girl, you are.”

 “Let the child be,” her father had stepped in, placing a calming hand on his wife’s shoulder. “She didn’t mean to get hurt.”

 “Our daughter is always like this,” her mother had retorted sharply. “We can only hope that she doesn’t bring such negative attention to us when she gets older.”

 Her mother’s words still rung in her ears. It hurt that the woman who’d birthed her was more concerned with the opinions of others than her own health. Swallowing hard, she was glad that she didn’t have to return home for a while. At least that would give her some respite from her mother’s critical eyes and condemnation.

The physician had insisted that she shouldn’t be moved back to her own house as the return journey to Grosvenor Square would be too long and painful for her in this condition, so her parents didn’t have a choice. He ordered that she must remain there until she was fully healed. However, she was not going to be alone as her governess was to stay at the house with her until she was sufficiently recovered to return home.

Abigail had fussed over her for several hours before the countess had finally pried her away from her best friend’s side. The younger girl had been reluctant to leave, but she had grudgingly agreed to let Jessie get some peace. Now, Jessie lay alone in the dim candlelight with only her recollections of the day.

A faint knock on the heavy wooden door stilled her thoughts. “Come in,” she called.

Just like that, Anthony entered the room. Jessie hadn’t seen him since he had gently laid her down on the bed when they’d arrived at the house. She noticed he was holding a small book in his hands. Concern was etched on his face as he looked at her small, prone body in the bed and Jessie ventured a reassuring smile.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, setting the book down on the end of the bed and wringing his hands.

“Much better,” she assured him. “The physician gave me a tincture of laudanum, and my governess has gone in search of some more herbs to soothe my pain.”

“I was worried,” he admitted. “I hated to see you in so much pain.”

“I’ll survive.”

He picked up the book and handed it to her. “This is for you.” Their fingers gently brushed as she took the book from him, and Jessie shivered at the sensation.

“What is it?”

“It’s a book.”

Jessie rolled her eyes. “I can see that,” she scoffed good-naturedly. “I meant, why are you giving it to me?”

“It’s my favorite book. I read it whenever I feel upset, or I cannot sleep. It’s the tale of a valiant knight who rescues a damsel from an evil dragon. He must fight the dragon and overcome many obstacles to save her. The story always makes me feel better. I thought that you might need it more than I do.”

Touched by the gesture, Jessie smiled softly. It was the first time that she’d genuinely smiled since her accident. Anthony’s cheeks were tinted with a faint hue of red as she smiled at him. Her blue eyes possessed that familiar sparkle again as she gazed at him.

“Thank you, Anthony,” she whispered.

“I wanted to do all I could to help you,” he assured her. “I couldn’t stand seeing you in so much pain.”

Jessie swallowed hard. Her mind was whirling as she took in the intensity in his voice. She was deeply touched by how heartfelt his words seemed. In his presence, she felt so safe and secure.

“You saved me today.”

“I’ll always be by your side,” he promised. “I’ll protect you from any bad things that may happen, Jessie.”

The room grew silent as their eyes locked. Before she even realized what she was doing, Jessie leaned forward and brushed her lips against his cheek. Instantly, she pulled away and shrugged innocently.

Jessie felt her heart flutter inside her chest. Her love for him was a platonic adoration that had been forged through time and strengthened today. Deep down, she sensed that the years ahead would bring challenges for her, but she was sure that he would be there at her side to keep her safe whenever she needed him.

He was her rock, and she loved him for that.


Chapter One

8 years later

Jessie sat on her bed, staring out at the winter landscape. Her mind was full of negative thoughts. How could it not be? Jessie was betrothed, yet it did not make her happy. She was not marrying the man of her dreams. In fact, she loathed the man she was to marry.

Nathaniel, Viscount Barrington, was the pinnacle of everything she despised in a person, and he had destroyed all the innocent dreams she once had. When she was a little girl, she had always wished to marry for love, but she didn’t love Nathaniel. In truth, she didn’t even like him.

Barrington’s smug and arrogant demeanor sickened her. He was boastful and superficial, and his vast wealth did nothing to tempt her to think otherwise. Yet, despite her dark and disgusting thoughts about him, their betrothal would soon be official. The announcement would soon be in the newspapers, and the banns would imminently be called.

This was not how her life was supposed to be. As a child, she had always imagined herself as a princess who would be swept away by a charming prince someday. Or, at least, she would marry someone she cared about. Sadly, there had only been one man for whom she’d ever really harbored an affection.

That thought triggered her mind to drift back to thoughts of the single man who’d ever really affected her. She couldn’t help but remember a day long ago when she’d injured herself and been saved by a boy who was not yet a man. Anthony disappeared from her life many years ago, but he never left her thoughts. He had been one of her closest friends, and she had truly thought that he would never desert her.

After tragedy struck his family, he’d disappeared from her life, fleeing without so much as a goodbye. It hurt to know that he was out there somewhere in the world, uncaring and oblivious to her unhappy existence here.

Jessie shook her head. She still longed to feel close to him. Reaching under her bed, she plucked out the small steel locked box she kept under there. As she opened it, she stared down as the mass of trinkets inside. Searching through the pile, she retrieved two items and placed them beside her on the coverlet.

Taking the leather-bound book in her hands, she ran her fingers over the covers, relishing the familiar feel of the rough leather. She’d kept this book close to her for eight years and read it over and over again. While she loved the story, it was the deeper meaning behind it that strummed at her heartstrings.

It was the book Anthony had gifted her on the day she hurt her leg.

Swallowing hard, she opened it and flicked through the well-worn pages. Though the ink had faded slightly, she started to scan the words.

The prince reeled back, his sword cutting through the rough neck of the dragon, finally slaying it. It swayed this way and that, roaring in pain. Finally, he knew the fight was over as it crumpled to the ground with a mighty crash.

 Rushing over to the supine princess as she lay on the bed, he smiled at her. She was locked in a slumber from which only a kiss could stir her. Leaning down, he brushed her lips and pulled back with an anxious wait.

Her eyes fluttered open, momentarily unseeing as she regained her senses. Her blue gaze was deep and tormented, still saturated with the memories of the dragon’s claws snatching her away. Suddenly, she snapped her head to glance at the dragon’s body, lying on the ground next to them. At that moment, the prince knew she realized she was safe. He drew her into his arms cradling her. No longer would she have to worry about anything.

 He would always be there to protect her from that moment onward.

Jessie felt a single tear track its way down her cheek as she recalled how she’d dreamed of finding a prince who would save her in such a way. Many a night, she’d opened this book and read it by candlelight, lost in her fantasies of a romantic prince slaying any demons that plagued her. Now, she knew the story by heart. She suspected the book’s original owner would be significantly less familiar to her if she saw him now.

Of course, she was sure that it would be a long time before she saw Anthony again.

With a melancholy sigh, Jessie snapped the book closed and placed it back into the box before lifting the other item on the bed. As she unfolded the letter, gently letting her fingers brush the broken wax seal, she gulped.

While the book stirred pleasant memories within her, this letter brought tears to her eyes every time she read it. Her mind whirled as she skimmed over the impersonal words.

“I regret that I couldn’t say goodbye.”

 “I fear I shall be gone for an extended duration. I do not hope to return except to attend to urgent business on the estate.”

 “I trust you will take care of my sister in my absence.”

 At that moment, Jessie wanted to rage and cry. Anthony’s last letter to her had arrived after his departure. As the Plymouth home had been in mourning, she hadn’t even found out that he’d left until the letter arrived. She’d never heard from him since.

She felt another tear roll down her face when she remembered the days after she discovered he had left. It was in the wake of the terrible tragedy that had defined his family’s life forever. She hated to think of it because she felt his pain like it was her own. When they were children, they’d shared everything, but he’d refused to turn to her after the death of his father. He’d eschewed any attempts she made to try and contact him. Before she could reach out, he’d gone.

Although she didn’t know every detail of what happened, she was aware that the Earl of Plymouth had been killed in a horrible carriage accident and that Anthony blamed himself. Unfortunately, he’d shut himself off from her after that.

Jessie wished things could have been different. There was a small part of her, deep down inside, that still dreamed of what life would be like as Anthony’s wife. For years, she’d pushed away those feelings. Ever since he’d left town, she’d put any hopes of being with Anthony out of her mind. Now, this impending betrothal had coaxed old memories from the depths of her heart and these thoughts haunted her.

Sadly, those girlish dreams couldn’t possibly come true.

From what she’d heard from Abigail, he was perfectly happy in Europe on the Grand Tour. Truthfully, Jessie was a little jealous that gentlemen were able to undertake those travels through Europe and experience all the delights of the continent. So many wealthy young men were able to embark on a journey that was filled with the richest culture and arts while, as a woman, she would never be able to indulge in such a thing.

Jessie’s mood darkened. It was likely that Anthony was enjoying himself more than he ever could in England, considering his seeming reluctance to spend any length of time in London. She suspected he would find some pretty French girl to marry. They would have the cutest, most elegant children and be the perfect family. Of course, Jessie would be married to that despicable viscount instead. A shudder ran through her.

Dwelling on her inevitable marriage to the Viscount would strip her of her sanity if she allowed it. She needed to escape from the tumult of thoughts in her head. Rising to her feet, she left the parlor. A walk outside in the crisp air would be just the trick for clearing her mind.

Jessie rose from her bed, glancing in the mirror as she passed it. Soaking in her reflection, she was struck by how mature she looked now. Childhood was long gone, and her slender face was that of a woman’s now. Her blonde hair was pinned up, with a few curls cascading around her face. However, sadness resonated in her deep blue eyes. To many, that melancholy would be imperceptible, but she could see it swirling in the depths of her gaze.

She wondered if there would be a time when she would ever be happy again.

Certainly not if she did go through with her marriage to the viscount.

Gritting her teeth, she resolved not to waste another thought on Barrington that day. Pushing her pain from her mind, she exited her bedchamber, determined to fix her mind on happier thoughts. As she padded the hallway of her home toward the door, she paused outside her father’s study.

From the other side of the door, she could hear the heated voices of her parents, and a frown furrowed her brow. It was rare for her parents to argue so intensely and she felt a frisson of concern. While she knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, her inherent curiosity got the better of her. Holding her breath, she leaned toward the heavy wooden door.

“How could you be so foolish?” her mother yelled harshly. “Didn’t you think about what you were doing?”

“Would you have preferred every merchant in the town to batter down our doors?” her father shot back. “I was left without any alternatives.”

“How did you end up owing such a large amount to Viscount Barrington? Did you gamble our fortune away at the card tables?” Without waiting for a response, her mother plowed on. “It all makes sense now. How could I have been so naïve? I thought you simply wanted our daughter to make a good marriage, but instead, we are surrendering her to pay for your debts! Can you imagine what our neighbors would think if they found out how much money you owe? We would become the laughing stock of every person in town. Do you want us to be pariahs?”

“I had no choice but to take everything on credit,” he responded firmly. “Your pretty clothes and perfumes have cost me a fortune.”

Jessie heard her mother cluck in disgust. “You’re placing the blame on my shoulders? How dare you!”

“Your demands for every luxury in England caused this!” yelled her father. A crash sounded as if he’d slammed his hands down onto his desk. “I was trying to make you happy. It’s all I’ve ever done since I took you as my wife. But nothing was ever good enough for you, was it? There always had to be more. No matter how much I gave you, you never quite managed to be satisfied.”

A scoff sounded from her mother’s lips. “If you were a real man, you would have kept our finances in order instead of squandering our fortune,” she sneered. “Jessica is the one who must now pay the price, and all we can do is conceal your misdeeds from our friends and neighbors, so we never become the object of the most terrible scandal in all of London.”

Her father sighed. “Indeed. I didn’t want anyone to find out, not even you. I tried to keep this from you, but I suppose it is better that you know the truth. Yes, I made the deal with Viscount Barrington and promised him Jessica as collateral. Now that I cannot pay, he has made it clear he intends to collect. She will be his wife, and there is no choice in the matter.”

Jessie gasped reeled back as the revelation hit the air. A wave of dizziness crashed over her, almost knocking her off her feet. Steadying herself against the wall, she couldn’t believe her ears. This couldn’t be real. Surely, her dearest father wouldn’t have done such a thing! Yet she’d heard it herself and there was no room for misunderstanding. The physical ache in her heart intensified. It was bad enough to have been betrothed to the viscount, but it was even worse to be sold to him to repay her father’s debts.

How could this be?

Turning back to the door, she swallowed down the bitter tang of bile that flooded her throat. She didn’t want to hear any more, but she couldn’t seem to drag herself away.

“You know how our daughter is,” her mother was saying. “She will fight us.”

Lord Allen cleared his throat. “Yet, I also know how you are,” he responded wearily. “You have a lifetime’s experience of making people do things they do not wish to do.”

A harsh laugh sounded from her mother. “I see that you wish to defame me, but I shall take that as a compliment. You’re right. I will ensure that Jessica marries the viscount. I will not see us ruined like beggars in the street. This marriage will be the finest that London has ever seen, and all our friends will believe it is the happiest of occasions. When Jessica walks down the aisle, she will do so with a smile. Yes, she will be left with no room for disagreement. You can be certain of that.”

Jessie felt herself inhale sharply and stumbled backward. Beneath her ribs, her heart thrummed wildly. Her head was spinning with a deluge of thoughts. Once again, she wondered how her parents could condemn her to a lifetime of misery so readily. The betrayal from her mother wasn’t unexpected. Lady Allen had always cared about status and the opinions of others more than she’d ever cared about her daughter. A lifetime of knowing her mother had made her realize that the older woman liked to shape the world to benefit her.

However, the thought that her father could see her ruined in such a way hurt badly. Ever since she was a little girl, she had trusted him, looked up to him, and respected him. In almost every way, she had been the model daughter. Now, he had sold her to that man like she was nothing more than chattel to be bartered.

It hurt. It really hurt.

The last time she could remember feeling such pain was that day so many years ago when she broke her leg. That same agony engulfed her once again. Of course, back then the pain had been entirely physical. This time, it was her emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. Betrayal loomed like a physical presence in front of her, cutting her deeply to her core. She was entirely alone at that moment in time, and she had no friend to soothe away her pain with kind words or tender smiles.

Shaking herself out of her solemn reverie, she spun on her heels and returned swiftly to the parlor. Her appetite for exercise had been quelled by what she’d heard. Now, she longed for solitude to reflect on that terrible revelation. She felt like cattle bound for the slaughter with no possible escape.

Chapter Two 

The clock struck three in the parlor, but Jessie didn’t stir as she sat frozen on the large corner chair. As she contemplated what she had just overheard, she found it less and less believable. Turning it over in her mind, chewing on every single, terrible revelation, she just couldn’t seem to put it into perspective.

How could her father do this to her?

He was a respectable man, and while they didn’t share the wealth of some of the country’s families, they were far from poor. What in the world would have possessed him to sell her a viscount that she neither loved nor liked? He’d always wanted the best for her, even acting as a buffer between herself and her mother when the other woman had turned a critical tongue on her.

No, this had to be a mistake. She must have misheard their words or interpreted them wrongly. It was simply impossible. The only problem was that she knew it was entirely probable.

Jessie’s mother had come from a high-born family and demanded that her husband kept her in the style to which she had become accustomed during her youth. Though her father had only come from a family of merchants, he’d done as well as he could and tried so hard to please his young wife. Although her grandfather had been elevated from a common man to a lordship, her father’s side of the family had never been able to truly shake the legacy of their births. Jessie had spent years listening to the servants’ whisper and giggle about it.

When she failed to bear a son, she had set upon spending all her husband’s money to ensure there was nothing left to be entailed away. Seemingly, she had burned through their finances more quickly than anticipated. Added to the business mistakes that her father had made, it was no wonder that their money had drained away so quickly.

Now, Jessie was the one who had to suffer all because of her parents’ mistakes.

The opening of the door startled Jessie, and the young woman was surprised to see her parents enter the parlor. Primly, her mother entered first, hands clasped in front of the lace-trimmed ivory dress. Lord Allen traipsed behind his wife, shuffling forward stiffly. His face was etched with guilt, but her mother simply gave her a curt nod as she came to a standstill in front of Jessie, impassively staring down at her.

“We need to talk to you, Child,” the older woman announced without preamble. “Your father has something to tell you.”

Jessie gulped audibly. Schooling her expression into one of ignorance, Jessie fixed her gaze on her father. “Yes, Papa?”

He cleared his throat nervously and began to pace the floor. His form was vibrating with tension, but Jessie couldn’t even feel the slightest twinge of sympathy for him, as she normally would. The betrayal was too fresh and raw.

“Jessica, as you know, your marriage to Viscount Barrington is an important event for our family,” her father said formally.

Scowling, Jessie scoffed. “It wouldn’t be an event at all if you were not forcing me to marry that objectionable man.”

“Have some respect for your father,” her mother snapped. “I don’t wish to hear you talk like that again. You’re our child, and you will behave in a suitable manner.”

“Yes, I do understand that he is not the sort of husband you envisaged,” her father agreed, glancing at his wife’s irritated face. “I’m afraid I’m culpable, Jessica. I didn’t want you to know the truth, but now I see it would be wrong of me to keep it from you.”

Jessie narrowed her eyes. “What truth might that be, Father?”

He cleared his throat again. “Living in London and living up to the life of the ton is an expensive endeavor. Many of our neighbors enjoy limitless wealth, and money is of no importance to them. As you’re aware, I have never attained their status or money.”

“Money and status have never mattered to me,” Jessie interjected, cringing under her mother’s scornful glare.

Her father turned to her. “I know that child, but we cannot escape the conventions of society. Money matters to people in this town, and I couldn’t allow my family to be viewed as paupers. I wanted to give you and your mother everything you wished for.”

Jessie shook her head firmly. “I never wished for anything but love,” she replied.

“That’s because you’re a dreamer, Jessica,” chimed her mother derisively.

Ignoring his wife, Lord Allen continued. “Over the years, my income was not large enough to pay all of our debts. I never intended for the situation to become so severe but before I knew what was happening, it had grown out of control. My creditors demanded their repayments, and I was in a bind. I shan’t go into detail but, by a happy chance of fate, Viscount Barrington agreed to lend me a small sum of money.”

“It doesn’t sound like such a happy twist to the story,” Jessie commented, earning her another dark stare from her mother.

“Unfortunately, it did not cover all my debts, and I had to borrow more,” her father sighed, his eyes dulling. “Eventually, he agreed that he would only cover my latest debts if…”

“If what?” she demanded.

“If we could arrange your betrothal to him,” he admitted, shame coloring his face.

Despite her knowledge of the situation, hearing it from her father’s lips made the truth all the more real. Nausea flooded her throat, and she tasted the bitter flavor of betrayal. When she’d heard her parent’s argument through the door, she’d still enjoyed the luxury of denial, but she could no longer hide behind it. The truth hung between them, twisting, and flailing in her chest.

Rising to her feet, Jessie stared up at her father, imploring him with her eyes not to force her into this. When he refused to meet her gaze, she desperately felt that all was lost. “What if I refuse to marry him? What then?”

“Jessie,” her mother intervened. “You need to be reasonable. Our family is indebted to the Viscount. He has been very good to us. Without his funds, we would have been destitute. Is that what you want? Do you wish to see your mother tossed into the workhouse?”

Repressing a scoff, Jessie turned back to her father. “How can you allow this?” she asked him. “How can you force me to marry a man I despise?”

“Nonsense!” sneered her mother. “Despise him? How can you despise a man of such wealth and status? I never heard such foolish words.”

Narrowing her eyes, Jessie scowled. “Money doesn’t make a man good.”

“It makes him a good husband,” replied Lady Allen. Her eyes flickered to her husband. “Don’t you agree, dear?”

Until that moment, her father had never looked so old. Although he remained calm, his salt-and-pepper hair seemed to have turned grayer. His blue eyes were devoid of any sparkle, and his face looked weary and haggard. If she wasn’t so furious, Jessie might have felt a touch of sympathy for him.

Before he could venture an answer, Jessie’s mother interceded again. “Jessica, you are refusing to look at the positives. The Viscount is an esteemed member of society. He has so many connections, and he can give you a good life. A marriage to him will make you happy.”

“Happy? Is abject misery your definition of happiness?”

“Don’t be silly, girl! You sound hysterical, and the Viscount will not want a hysterical wife.”

“How lucky I must be,” she mumbled, too quietly for her mother to hear her.

Seemingly losing her patience, Lady Allen threw her arms askew. “Do you know how many girls would give anything to be in your position? He’s one of the most eligible bachelors in the county. His presence is coveted across the whole of England. I’ve heard that the Earl of Hereford and the Duke of Devonshire longed to marry their daughters to him.”

“If all these noblemen wanted their daughters to marry the repugnant Viscount, perhaps they should have borrowed money from him,” Jessie snapped. “It seems that is the way to secure his heart.”

Her mother looked like she was about to explode from fury, and her father frowned. “Jessica, please. Your mother and I only want what’s best for you.”

Swallowing back the tears that roughened her throat, Jessie blinked rapidly. “Do you truly believe this is what’s best for me?”

As her father remained silent, lowering his lashes, the girl glanced between her parents and sighed. She knew how her mother could be once she’d set her mind on something and she would not be moved. Many years of experience warned her that she needed to try a different way to persuade her parents that this prison of a marriage would be wrong for her. She wanted them to understand that she wouldn’t be happy if she married the viscount.

Jessie only had one final weapon in her arsenal to try and change their minds. “I wanted to marry for love,” she sighed pleadingly.

“You can learn to love him. Time brings great love if you are patient. My marriage to your father was arranged, and we learned to love each other in time.” Her mother shrugged. “You simply must open your mind to the possibility.”

Disbelievingly, Jessie turned to glance at her mother. “Why should I do such a thing?”

Ignoring her question, she continued. “I do not want to see any more hostility toward Lord Barrington, Jessica. He is a man of honor, and you will treat him as such.”

A slight blush colored Jessie’s cheeks as she remembered her poorly hidden dislike of the Viscount. While she had always remained entirely composed in his presence, her adverse reactions to him had been tangible. Jessie was a very expressive young woman, and she always struggled to conceal the look of disgust that flashed across her face when he greeted her with false sweetness. His brash, rude manner and constant boasts of his own talents had annoyed her to no end.

Jessie swallowed thickly and averted her eyes from her mother’s piercing gaze. Tears welled up once again behind her eyes, but she fought them off with every ounce of her strength. All her life she had believed that hope sprung eternal, but she couldn’t see any hope. Darkness surrounded her, and she couldn’t find a way out. It was almost unbearable.

No savior was coming to her rescue.

In this cruel world, Jessie was alone.

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  • What a moving and emotionally engaging start to the story. Jessie’s struggle to come to terms with an awful situation, which was not of her making, was heartbreaking. I look forward to reading this book.

  • Once again our heroine, Jessie, is at the mercy of her father’s debts and is promised to someone she despises. Her mother is not sympathetic to her at all. I can’t wait to see how Roselyn brings Anthony and Jessie together. It sounds very romantic!

  • What a situation Jessie has to deal with. Anthony to the rescue? Sounds like an intriguing story. Looking forward to reading the entire story.

  • Jessie is the damsel in distress. Will Anthony as her knight in honor swoop in and save her? I certainly hope so. Waiting to see how this happens.

  • Congratulations on the beginning of a very interesting book. I would definitely want to read the conclusion.the characters are already starting to take shape. I felt sorry for the father and impatient with the mother. I am looking forward to the entire book.

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