A Marriage of Necessity – Tarah Scott

Anne angled away from her best friend, Jeanine, drew back the edge of her glove, and glanced at the face of the silver gilded watch pinned to the inside of the fabric. 11:57. If her watch was correct, and the time piece had kept perfect time for three generations, the third ball of the season would end in three minutes when the minuet concluded. Then Lady Peddington’s famed Midnight Ball would begin. A year of her life, along with funds her family could ill afford to lose, gone. All for nothing, if she didn’t find a wealthy husband by the next ball, which was one short week away. Her heart constricted. Oh, papa, why didn’t you tell us? She knew why. Her father had been a Weber male through and through. They were stubborn to a fault, determined to care for their own at all costs, and slaves to the gambling halls. In the end, he had the presence of mind to lay down his cards before he lost the castle on Loch Lomond, and the estate and land north of Perth. Her father, however, feared he couldn’t resist the temptation to gamble away their remaining holdings and drank himself to death. The need to cry rushed to the surface. Nae, the time for despair was long past. She had to— A tall, dark, good-looking gentleman approached. Anne’s mind snapped to attention. Two minutes remained of the respectable ball. It was impossible to join in the dance so late in the set, but would this gentleman engage her in conversation? He continued toward them. Anne turned her attention to Jeanine. It wouldn’t do for her to appear too eager. “I am so glad this ball is almost over,” Jeanine said. “I met an interesting gentleman earlier. He’s older—though not old enough for my purposes.” She sighed. “It is so hot and stuffy in here.

I think there are more guests tonight than last week. I wonder if there will be even more for the final ball of the season next week.” From the corner of her eye, Anne watched the man’s approach. He brushed past a group of men. “Aye, it is warm tonight,” Anne said to Jeanine. “We can go back to our rooms together, if ye like.” The man reached them, and she and Jeanine faced him. He looked at Anne. Her pulse jumped. Finally, a gentleman was going to speak with her. He would be the first of the evening. Then his attention shifted to Jeanine. “Would ye honor me with a turn around the ballroom?” Tears stung Anne’s eyes. She ducked her head as Jeanine said, “I am tired. But Lady Anne is free. Why don’t you walk with her?” Anne snapped her head up in time to see the man stiffen. “I beg your pardon, but it is getting late,” he said. “I must be going. Have a good evening.” He started to turn. “Wait,” Jeanine cried. The man stopped, interest lighting his eyes. “Why won’t you walk with Anne?” Jeanine demanded. “Jeanine,” Anne hissed under her breath, and she glanced at a group of nearby ladies who were frowning in their direction. But Jeanine ignored her.

“Do you know that she’s the heir to a title?” Jeanine asked. “I have no need of a title,” he said, and before they could reply, he spun and strode away. Jeanine faced her. “I am certain of it. Linda and Dorothy are speaking badly about you. Fiona, too, I wager,” she added in a dark tone. “Why would they?” Anne said. “What can they possibly say that would alienate these gentlemen? And why say anything at all? There are plenty of gentlemen seeking ladies.” “Because the gentlemen fawned all over you that first night,” Jeanine said. “You’re more beautiful than any other lady here.” That, Anne knew, was untrue. There were some very beautiful girls here. Jeanine was one. But leave it to Jeanine to be loyal to a fault. Still, something was wrong, and Anne couldn’t escape the feeling that the girls Jeanine had named did have something to do with it. The lights began to dim. Her heart fell. The respectable ball had ended. Anne spotted half a dozen servants weaving throughout the ballroom and snuffing out candles. They would extinguish more than half the candles, leaving the massive room with many shadows. “It’s time to leave,” Jeanine said. Anxiety knotted Anne’s stomach. Once she left the party, she would have to wait another week for the opportunity to find a suitable match. There had to be some way to prepare for the next week. She couldn’t sit passively in Lady Peddington’s parlor and sew, sip tea, and talk about the final upcoming ball.

Even if she met a gentleman tonight or next week, what guarantee was there she would make a match? She couldn’t wait to the last minute and simply hope to find a husband. The candles on the table behind them were snuffed, leaving them standing in soft shadows. Jeanine tugged on her arm. “Come along, Anne.” Dare she stay? Anne scanned the ballroom. At least one hundred and fifty guests, including Lady Peddington’s girls, had attended the night’s ball. Half of those had left. Anne counted ten graduates of Lady Peddington’s School for Young ladies amongst the guests. Some had even removed their gloves. Three girls stood far too close to gentlemen, and the orchestra struck up a waltz. The Midnight Ball had officially begun. Two gentlemen looked their way. “Oh dear,” Jeanine whispered. “Two gentlemen are headed our way. If we hurry, we can avoid them.” Anne faced Jeanine. “Quickly, you go on. I’ll be up later.” “Nae, you need a husband with money,” Jeanine’s whisper grew urgent. “These men can offer you nothing.” Jeanine might not be correct. Some courtesans received very expensive gifts. Might she receive enough expensive gifts to support her estate for the next three years? Her mother had a good head for business. She could manage the tenants while Anne earned the money it would take to plant and harvest three years of crops. After that, Dover Hall could support itself and Castle Dòmnallach.

But that required substantial money… The two gentlemen reached them and stopped closer than propriety allowed. But then, this was the Midnight Ball. Propriety had exited along with all the proper ladies. The gentleman who stopped in front of Jeanine gave a slight bow. “May I have the honor of this dance?” Jeanine glanced at Anne. “Go on up to your room,” Anne said. “I will be up later.” She glimpsed the satisfied gleam in the eyes of the man standing near her. “Just one dance, my dear,” Jeanine’s admirer urged. Jeanine narrowed her eyes on Anne. “If you’re staying, then I am staying.” She looked at the gentleman. “I am happy to dance with you.” Before Anne could object, Jeanine slipped her hand into the crook of the man’s arm and allowed him to lead her toward the dance floor. Anne hesitated. She should go after her. Oh, this was a terrible mess. “Would you care for a walk in the garden, love?” Anne looked sharply at the man standing uncomfortably close. She had no experience with men who were seeking mistresses, but she had been the object of male attention since the age of fourteen. Six years was long enough to gain some understanding of male passions. Only twice before had a gentleman referred to her with a personal endearment—outside of her father, of course. The first, was the boy she fell in love with at sixteen. They fell out of love a year later, but remained friends to this day. The other time mirrored tonight. The intimacy hadn’t been earned, and evoked a sense of uneasiness that made her skin crawl.

Was this how a courtesan felt? Could she give the most private part of herself to a man who viewed her as nothing more than an object to serve his pleasure? Memories rose of her mother sitting before the hearth at Dover Hall, sewing on a cool autumn evening and her sister, Louisa, racing into the room with a drawing to show them or a passage from a favorite book she wanted to share, and the answer was a resounding yes. But did that mean a walk in the garden? Once they reached the cover of darkness, what would stop this man from taking what he wanted and then not paying for her charms? She flushed hot at her thoughts, but shoved aside the shame. How did a courtesan go about getting a man to offer a contract? The answer came more easily than she liked. She must tease just enough to entice him to offer a contract—a good contract. Anne slanted her head and looked up at the man through her lashes. “Perhaps, sir, it would be better if we began with a dance. A walk in the gardens might be something for people who are on more…intimate terms.” A corner of his mouth lifted, and dread seeped through her. “My dear, I have no qualms about counting myself among the fortunate number of your lovers, but I have no intention of being the man who finances them.” Anne blinked. “I-I beg your pardon?” Her thoughts whirled. Finances them? She drew a sharp breath. “You think that I am looking for a protector and want to take lovers at his expense?” He leaned closer and she stiffened when he traced a finger up her arm. “After we have enjoyed ourselves, I might introduce ye to a man who will look the other way when you take lovers while under his protection.” Her mind cleared. “You believe I will trade my-my—for a—” Words failed as fury clouded her thinking. She arched a brow. “A walk in the garden, you say? You like the dark, sir?” “Like it?” he said with a growl. “I prefer it.” Men were fools. This time, she met his gaze squarely. “In my experience, a man who prefers the cover of darkness to make love to a woman is a man who is lacking in the proper—” she gave him a cool smile “—tools to please a lady.” He blinked, then his mouth thinned. “The gentlemen you draw into your web are most fortunate.” She lifted her chin.

“You will not count yourself amongst their ranks.” It seemed he would say more, but he spun on his heel and strode away. Anne released a deep breath, then realized a nearby group of men were staring. God help her, by tomorrow, word will have spread through Edinburgh that one of Lady Peddington’s graduates was available for the taking. “You can’t fully blame him, you know,” drawled a deep male voice behind her. Anne whirled to face the speaker, a tall man leaning against the wall. Good heavens, he was handsome. The blue eyes that started at her were made all the more blue by his raven dark hair. “I beg your pardon?” she said. “There is no denying that Niall is uncouth,” he said. “But you can’t fault him for speaking the truth.” The temper that had got her into far too much trouble over the course of her life—including just a moment ago—reared its ugly head once again. “You know nothing of the situation.” “Unlike Niall, I respect a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to pursue it,” he said without rancor. She frowned. “What the devil are you talking about?” “A woman has just as much right to pursue her pleasure as does a man,” he said. Then she understood. “Where did you get the idea that I’m seeking lovers?” She should have known better than to stay for the Midnight Ball. “Are ye saying it isn’t true?” he asked, but before she could answer, he added. “It seems to be a well-known fact.” “Something can be a fact only if it’s true,” she said with exasperation. He laughed. “You just rejected Niall’s advances by telling him that you won’t add him to your list of lovers.” She gave a frustrated shake of her head. “I was angry.

” He laughed. “There is no need to be coy. I meant what I said, I respect a woman who isn’t afraid to go after what she wants.” Anne exhaled a breath in an effort to control her temper. “But you insist that what I want is a string of lovers. What in heaven would I do with them?” He pushed away from the wall. “Perhaps I can be of help in demonstrating the benefits of having at least one lover.” She rolled her eyes. “That would completely undermine my plans.” “What might those plans be?” “I fail to see how that is any of your business,” she said. He shrugged. “If I’m to help, I must know your plans.” “Help?” Anne narrowed her eyes. “If you intend to help in the same fashion as that other gentleman, no thank you.” “I would never be so uncouth,” he said. A twinge of hope surfaced. “Niall should never have asked you to trade your charms for the possibility of introducing you to a man who might be interested in becoming your protector.” “What should he have done?” she asked cautiously. The man took two steps closer and grasped her hand. The warmth of his fingers caught her off guard. Eyes locked with hers, he lifted her hand and brushed his lips across her fingers, then released her. “A lady should always know what to expect from a gentleman.” Anne agreed completely. “A woman as beautiful as you should expect nothing less than a diamond bracelet after an intimate evening.” She stiffened.

He didn’t intend to make her his mistress. He intended to have her for one night, then send her home. With a diamond bracelet, her mind whispered. The situation had grown far more desperate than she could have imagined. Not only had she failed to capture the interest of a suitable prospect for a husband, she couldn’t even interest a man in making her his mistress. It made no sense. Men had vied for her attention—many, for her hand in marriage—since she’d turned sixteen. Now that she needed to marry, she was avoided. Quite a few men had approached her at Lady Peddington’s first ball—or, at least the first half of the ball, now that she thought about it. “Good heavens,” she said under her breath. Jeanine was right. Someone had spread rumors about her. She regarded the gentleman. “Where did ye hear these things about me?” “Men talk—just as women do, I wager.” “How dare they,” she muttered. “I beg your pardon?” “They’ve ruined my chances of finding the right man.” “Perhaps I am the right man,” he said. She surveyed him, his raven hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders and long legs, then shook her head. “Nae, you are too handsome.” He blinked. “I had no idea being ‘too handsome’ was a drawback.” “It is for my purposes.” “I promise you, my dear, it isn’t.” She gave a frustrated shake of her head. “A man like you has no need of a mistress, much less a wife.


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