Delilah cannot bear to watch as her twin sister Deborah marries Hamish Baillie, fourth earl of Blackwood. Not only because she knows that her conniving sister has manipulated the poor man into marriage, but also because she has been in love with Hamish since she first set eyes on him . . .
When Delilah makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Hamish from her sister’s clutches, he is grateful—but he can’t help but be suspicious of her motives. Nevertheless, when it appears that Delilah may be cast out, he agrees to help by employing her as a housekeeper at his Scottish residence.
As Hamish spends more time with Delilah, he realizes she is sincere. But her scheming twin was never going to let go of the earl that easily . . .
“Christina Courtenay is one of my favourite historical romance writers. Every time I sit down to read one of her books, I just know I’m in for some fabulous storytelling, and Marry for Love is no exception.” —Old Victorian Quill
About the Author
Christina Courtenay lives in Hereford and is married with two children. Although born in England she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, the family moved to Japan where she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East.
Courtenay debut Trade Winds was short listed for the 2011 Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Pure Passion Award for Best Historical Fiction.The Scarlet Kimono won the 2011 Big Red Reads Best Historical Fiction Award. Highland Storms and The Gilded Fan won the Best Historical Romantic Novel of the year award and The Silent Touch of Shadows won the 2012 Best Historical Read Award from the Festival of Romance.
Read an Excerpt
Hamish Baillie, fourth earl of Blackwood, stared at the altar and felt the cage closing in on him. It was almost like a physical pain and his sense of being trapped was so acute it made him want to roar with rage and rattle the metaphorical iron bars.
But of course he could do no such thing in this holy place.
'Don't worry, my lord, brides are always a little late. It's their prerogative,' the vicar said, as if he thought the scowl on Hamish's face was because he was being kept waiting. But Hamish wasn't paying much attention to the man. He was too busy inwardly railing at fate.
It was ironic really, he thought, that a man who had managed to avoid the shackles of marriage so successfully for years should have been trapped by a miss barely out of the schoolroom. But her supposed innocence was what had fooled him and lulled him into a false sense of security. He now knew her to be a schemer extraordinaire despite her tender years – Wellington himself could have done with some of her stratagems – and he was well and truly caught.
He heard the church door open and glanced down the aisle, bedecked with far more flowers and greenery than one small country church could possibly need. The cloying scent of the roses and lilies alone was enough to make him feel nauseous, it was so overpowering. But then his bride had wanted a society wedding in St George's Hanover Square, so this was probably her revenge for Hamish's refusal. He noticed that quite a large number of members of the ton sat wilting in the pews, even though he'd expressly asked for this to be a small occasion. He would much have preferred not having an audience to witness what some gossips called his 'come-uppance'. Obviously, his wishes didn't enter into the equation here.
His bride entered on her father's arm at last, looking as angelic as the day he'd first set eyes on her. Angelic, hah! He doubted she'd ever been sweet in her life. Termagant, more like.
Not wanting to even look at the woman he was about to be tied to for life, he moved his gaze restlessly around the congregation, stopping momentarily when he caught sight of the bride's twin sister. They were uncannily alike and he'd never been able to tell them apart. At the moment, she didn't look much happier than he did, although why that should be so he had no idea. For an instant it made him lower his guard and he allowed the full force of his misery and despair to shine through before shuttering his expression once more. At this sight, the sister looked as though she'd been floored. Her eyes widened and one hand flew up to cover her mouth, but he turned away, no longer wanting to stare at someone so like his future wife.
In fact, he wanted nothing to do with any member of that family, but it would seem he had no choice. He squared his shoulders and tried to resign himself to his fate.
Delilah Risden felt as if someone had punched her right in the solar plexus. She struggled to breathe, her lungs only slowly drawing in the much needed air, while she blinked at her sister's husband-to-be.
The man had looked positively haunted.
Dear Lord, what was she to do? Lilah couldn't bear to see a human being tortured in this way, forced into doing something that was so wrong. She couldn't allow it to happen, she simply couldn't. She had to stop this marriage, but how?
She racked her brains and bit her lip, staring at the floor while her sister made her way up the aisle as slowly as possible in order to allow everyone to admire her dress. There had been talk of little else for weeks and Lilah was sick of the sight of this garment. And she didn't want to see Deborah's triumphant smile because she knew it was mostly aimed at her, and today it would be worse than ever before.
It had always been the same. Whenever Lilah wanted something, Deborah took it away from her one way or another. Deborah always got her way, by fair means or foul – usually the latter – and Lilah was powerless to stop her. Well, no more. This time her sister had gone too far in trapping an innocent man into marriage just because she had guessed that Lilah was in love with him.
It was all so unnecessary anyway, since Lilah had never had a hope in hell of attracting a man like Lord Blackwood – or Hamish as she secretly called him in her thoughts. Handsome as sin – blond, blue-eyed and with a physique like a Greek god – he could clearly take his pick of the girls on the marriage mart. Lilah hadn't for one instant imagined he'd choose a quiet country girl like herself, despite the fact that she was passably pretty. Although they had met and spoken a few times, hers had mostly been adoration at a distance and she'd never expected anything to come of it. Deborah, however, was made of sterner stuff and the moment she'd found out about Lilah's tendre for the earl, his fate had been sealed.
Ergo, this was all her fault.
It was definitely not right though. Nobody should be made to suffer just because Deborah wanted what Lilah had. Usually the matter remained between the two of them and Lilah put up with that, but involving a third party simply wasn't acceptable. And how was she to survive seeing the couple together at every family occasion for the rest of her life? Watch Deborah lording it over everyone in her role as Countess? Bearing the Earl's children? It would be intolerable. Lilah clenched her jaw and took a deep breath. The time had come for her to act. It was now or never.
Deborah had reached Hamish's side now and Lilah noticed that he couldn't even bring himself to look at his bride. Instead he was studying the fine stained glass windows behind the altar with an intensity that could have burned a hole in them. Deborah's chin shot up a notch and she tossed her head. She obviously thought she would have the last laugh and wasn't bothered about his lack of courtesy.
'I'll soon have the haughty lord tamed and wrapped around my little finger,' Lilah had heard her boasting to her friends. Just the way Deborah had always had her father exactly where she wanted him.
No, I won't allow it, Lilah thought. Enough was enough.
The vicar began the service and after rambling on for a while, he uttered the words Lilah had been waiting for.
'... and if any of you can show just cause why this couple may not lawfully be married, speak now or else forever hold your peace.'
Her body began to shake, but this merely strengthened her resolve. If she felt this bad about the marriage, she could only imagine it must be a thousand times worse for Hamish. Although she could never have him herself, she could save him from a fate worse than death, which is what marriage to Deborah would amount to, of that she had no doubt. And she'd save herself from a lifetime of pure misery at the same time.
'I can,' she said in a loud voice and stood up.
A gasp went through the congregation like a gust of wind through a field of ripe corn. She felt, rather than saw, Hamish's gaze come slowly round to settle on her, his blue eyes huge with astonishment, while her mother wheezed in a surprised breath.
'For heaven's sake, child, what are you about? Sit down this instant,' Lady Risden hissed and pulled at Lilah's skirts, but Lilah ignored both her mother's efforts and the fact that her father's countenance had taken on a scowl of monumental proportions.
'I beg your pardon?' The vicar blinked at her, clearly not expecting this.
'There is an impediment to this marriage,' Lilah stated clearly. 'Deborah lied to his lordship to force his hand. In fact, she never spent any time alone with him at all, even though she made him think so. She put laudanum in his tea and when he woke up, she made sure they were found in a compromising position. It was all staged though. I know, because I was there the entire time behind a curtain. So you see, they weren't alone after all.' She ran out of breath and wondered if she'd faint from lack of air.
Exclamations of shock and fierce whispering broke out all around them. This was grist for the gossip mills with a vengeance and Lilah knew there were those among the congregation who would dine out on this tale for weeks to come. She didn't care. Deborah speared her sister with a glance of such venom it ought to have felled her on the spot. Lilah ignored that too and stood her ground.
'She is lying, otherwise why hasn't she said anything before now?' Deborah snarled. 'She's jealous that's all, she always wants what's mine. Besides, it makes no difference either way. Does it?' This last question was fired off at the vicar, who opened and closed his mouth several times, clearly at a loss.
'Well, no, I suppose if ... if you're truly compromised, the fact that there was a witness doesn't ... I mean ...' He faltered.
Hamish had narrowed his eyes at Deborah and crossed his arms over his chest.
'Perhaps we should discuss this?' he suggested, his low voice a menacing rumble.
'There is nothing to discuss. You have asked me to marry you, so let us get on with it,' Deborah said through clenched teeth. 'You cannot go back on your word now. That would be most un-gentlemanly.'
'Wait! There ... there is another impediment.' Lilah could feel little rivulets of perspiration beginning to trickle down her back, but she couldn't back down now. She had to save him before Deborah talked her way out of this. 'He ... that is, his lordship had, er ... c-carnal knowledge of me first.' She felt her face flame, the colour no doubt reaching all the way down her chest and up to her ears, but she carried on in a rush in order to get all the words out before her knees buckled. 'And d-doesn't the Bible say that if a man has lain with one sister, then he cannot marry another? That would be against the laws of consanguinity or something to that effect. Am I right?'
She stared at the vicar, imploring him to help her out and to her relief, his brow furrowed and he nodded. 'Indeed, that is so,' he said. He turned to Hamish. 'Is this true, my lord? You, er ... seduced this young lady's sister first?'
Hamish looked hard at Lilah, his gaze questioning and enigmatic at the same time, and she nodded imperceptibly to show him he should agree. She had already risked so much, one more lie didn't matter.
'Yes,' he said, sounding very convincing and ever so slightly apologetic in a rather haughty and bored way, 'I'm afraid I did.'
Deborah let out a shriek of indignation and slapped him hard across the cheek, but he didn't so much as flinch. Lilah knew it was only a question of time before Deborah's fury would be turned towards her and she therefore hurried to make her way out of the pew and down the aisle as quickly as possible. She held her head high, looking neither right nor left, but she could feel everyone staring as if their eyes pierced her with the needles of their disapprobation. She was officially a fallen woman now, a self-confessed one at that, but she didn't care. After a lifetime of putting up with Deborah's spite and mean tricks, Lilah had finally shown her sister she could only go so far. This marriage was the final straw; Lilah would not allow Deborah to ruin things for her any longer. From now on she would live a life free from her sister and if she had to do it as a servant, so be it. Anything had to be better than this.
And she had saved Hamish – the man she loved – in the process, so perhaps at least one of them could have a happier future.
Hamish gave Deborah a hard stare that dared her to hit him again. Despite being in the throes of a massive temper tantrum, she wisely stuck to screeching. He cut her off in mid-sentence.
'I believe this charade is at an end,' he said and bowed slightly. 'You may keep the vulgar bauble you made me buy you.' He glanced at the huge and tasteless diamond ring on her left hand and knew he'd never want to see it again, much less give it to someone else. 'Good day to you, madam.'
Without another word, he strode out of the church, slamming the doors for good measure, then breathed a sigh of relief so sweet he had never felt its like. He dared not stay where he was, however, in case the hell-cat inside the church managed to think up some other reason why he had to wed her, despite her sister's words. Spying his saviour in the distance, he set out after her at a half-run.
Part-way through a field, he caught up with her.
'Miss Delilah, wait, please.'
She turned and came to a halt, looking up at him with eyes that were uncannily like the silver-coloured pair he'd just left behind in the church, but at the same time vastly different. In their depths he saw no guile, no cunning and no deceit, but that didn't make him trust her. Quite the opposite. He realised now that she was an even better strategist than her sibling and his relief would be of short duration.
'I'm assuming you are now expecting me to marry you instead, so will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?' He said the words in an insolent tone, not bothering to hide his disdain of her tactics. Why should he? She hadn't minced her words in church so she was definitely not missish. 'We'll have to go elsewhere and get a special licence though as I doubt your sister will allow us use of the same church.'
'Thank you, but no. There's no need for that, my lord,' she replied and turned to walk off again. He saw that she was heading for home, albeit via a short-cut across the fields, and soon caught up with her again.
'What do you mean?' he asked, astonished at this turn of events. 'If you're not angling to take your sister's place, why did you tell those lies in church?' 'I simply wanted to free you.'
He raised his eyebrows at her. 'Free me?'
'Yes, from Deborah's clutches. I've suffered her machinations for years, but I saw no reason why you should have to do the same when you'd done nothing to deserve it. She would have made your life a misery. If you'd been a horrid man, I might have stayed silent, but as it was ...' She shrugged and carried on walking, but he fell into step beside her.
'So you're saying you ruined your own reputation out of the goodness of your heart in order to save me from your sister? Forgive me if I find that somewhat difficult to believe.'
'Believe what you wish, my lord, it is the truth. And now, if you don't mind, I have things to do.'
They had almost reached the sprawling Tudor manor house that was her home and Hamish looked around him, expecting the wedding party to arrive at any moment and drag him back to his doom. He still couldn't believe that he had escaped. All thanks to the young lady next to him.
'If you don't want to marry me, what do you want? Money? Jewels? Marriage to someone else?'
'I want nothing from you and I certainly don't want to marry. My sister would only find some way of enticing any prospective suitor away from me. Please, just leave before it's too late. Trust me, Deborah will think of some way of getting you back if you don't hurry.'
'And what will you do? Surely you cannot stay here now?'
She gave a harsh laugh. 'No, most assuredly not. I shall pack my things and go, as quickly as I can.'
She threw up her hands. 'I don't know! Somewhere. Anywhere. I'll have to find work of some sort. I don't suppose you know of anyone who needs a companion or governess?' She shook her head. 'No, of course you wouldn't. I doubt you deal with such matters. Never mind.'
He opened his mouth to say no, then remembered something. 'But I do know of someone who needs a housekeeper. Are you any good at domestic matters?'
She laughed again, but it was still not a happy sound. 'Of course. I've been trained to run a household from birth. Where is this position?'
'In Scotland. At my house there, in fact. The old housekeeper died recently and I've yet to replace her. I'll take you on if you wish. I owe you that at least.'
'Your house? But ...'
It was his turn to laugh. 'You don't think it would be seemly for you to work for a single gentleman, is that it? I thought you just told the entire congregation back there that you had shared my bed.'
She blushed bright red and stared at the floor. 'You're right. How silly of me, to be sure.' She looked up again and stared him straight in the eyes. 'Very well, I accept. How do I get there?'
'I'll take you.'
'What? No, that's not necessary. I'm sure I can find my own way if you just tell me how ...'
He took her arm and propelled her towards the front door of the house. 'I'm taking you and that's that. Do you honestly think my other servants would believe you if you arrive to tell them you're the new housekeeper? You look far too young, so it will be up to me to put them right.'
'Oh, I hadn't thought of that.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Marry for Love"
Copyright © 2016 Christina Courtenay.
Excerpted by permission of Choc Lit Limited.
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