Authors: Ella J. Quince
He pulled away and grimaced. “You are right about the mud, it smells awful.”
They both laughed and took a step back.
“You still haven’t given me an answer.”
“I believe I did.”
“Not one that I will accept.”
Obedience looked down. She couldn’t keep her wits about her when he looked at her so intently. “I still don’t understand why, Chance. You just returned home, and now you think we should marry. It’s so sudden.”
“It’s my father’s last wish,” he said quietly.
Her head snapped up, her eyes burning angrily. Another refusal was on the tip of her tongue.
“Just listen, Obedience. I know it sounds absurd, I thought so to, but I couldn’t deny him. I told him I would think about it and I did. It just turns out that I agree with him.”
“But...” She didn’t know what to say. A small part of her whispered to just say yes
. She had spent half her life in love with him already, why couldn’t she say yes? “You’re willing to marry me because it’s your father’s last wish?” She couldn’t believe it.
“Yes, because I love him, I said I would consider it, and I did.”
“Yes, but so quickly? Don’t you have women in London who might want a say, or your mistress, or—or—”
Chance scowled. “I know what you are asking, and no. There has been no woman I have even considered taking to wife until now. Maybe that is what makes it so easy for me. I have no reason not to marry, and quite a few very good reasons why I should marry you.”
Obedience was stunned, and a little pleased. “Perhaps I should hear those reasons. I've yet to hear a single one that would convince me to agree.”
“I’ve already told you.”
“You said because your father wished it,” she said dubiously.
“And because of this.” He pulled her hips against his and swooped down to steal a kiss.
Obedience knew he was using kisses to sway her. But she would not change her mind. She let him ravish her mouth as he pleased. She didn't see a reason not to enjoy his chosen method of persuasion. All too soon, her nose was pervaded with the stench of the mud and they pulled apart.
“I’m not leaving without an answer
,” he said firmly.
She licked her lips. “I still don’t understand, Chance. Why me? There has to be someone more suited to be a duchess than I? But not Patience
,” she clarified. “If you marry my sister, I will have you committed for insanity.”
Chance sighed wearily but smiled at the same time. “It’s true you are a rather unconventional girl, but so is my father. My father wants you to be the next duchess, precisely because you are the way you are, and frankly, being a duchess means you can do as you please—just ask my father.”
Obedience wasn’t mollified—or convinced. “But what about you, Chance? This is forever, the rest of your life married to me. I’m not sophisticated, or elegant, or anything a duchess is supposed to be. After your father is gone, will you regret marrying me? Will you regret that I’m not anything like your polished London ladies?”
Chance tilted his head in thought. “I see where you are coming from, Obedience. I’ve learned recently that there is more to life than what society has to offer. There is so much more to be gained. Town life is like a masquerade. One puts on a mask and dresses in fine clothes to attend parties where everyone pretends they are better than everyone else
is. It’s all a ruse, smoke and mirrors to perpetuate our own pretentiousness. In reality, we are just people with tricks up our sleeves. This is the rest of my life—and yours, and I haven’t met anyone else I could tolerate spending it with than you. Please say yes. I can teach you to be a duchess—to pretend like the rest of us, and you can spend the majority of your time here away from town life, and be yourself. The more I think about it, the more it makes complete sense to me.”
Obedience looked down. It still sounded very much like a marriage of convenience, but then again, it was the only marriage proposal she was ever likely to receive. There were benefits for her, she couldn’t deny that, and certainly being married to Chance would have its own passionate
rewards. Willowton Park was already her second home, and if she married him, she wouldn’t have to leave, and her mother wouldn’t be there to tell her she couldn’t eat. It was so tempting. But there was still one glaring problem. It was clear he didn’t love her, but he did say that things would grow between them. Did that mean he already thought he could love her? That was the most tempting of all. To be able to be held in his arms in reality, instead of only in her dreams.
“I will marry you
,” she said timidly.
“Pardon?” He brought his face close to hers. “I don’t think I heard you properly.”
Obedience couldn’t fight an impish smile. “I said I will marry you, you wretch.”
Chance grinned and pulled her into his arms. He swung her around and sealed his mouth over hers. By the time he lifted his head
, they were both panting for breath.
“We both need to bathe. I have my dress stashed in the stables so
I won't be seen like this.”
“Oh, so your mother doesn’t approve
of your gallivanting about in breeches?” he said with sarcasm as he set her down. Now that the shock of the breeches had worn of, he enjoyed the view of her shapely legs.
“She would have an apoplexy.”
“Then let’s be sure to ride past the drawing room.” He turned and whistled. His horse looked up, circled around the field, and jumped the wall away from the mud. Chance tied Tulips reins to his saddle and turned to help Obedience. He lifted her onto his horse, shaking his head when she adjusted herself to sit astride. He mounted behind her, pulling her hips back against him, and bringing his arms around her to grab the reins.
Obedience was glad she was facing forward. Her cheeks flooded with heat as his body surrounded her, her bottom tucked intimately against him. “When will we be married?
” she asked to distract herself. She twisted to look at his face and was surprised to find it rather stern.
“What? Oh, well it could be fairly soon—sooner than is probably proper, but given that we are racing an invisible time clock with my father’s health, exceptions will have to be made.”
“Oh.” She probably should have been disappointed that she wouldn’t get a large wedding, but in fact, that was farthest from her mind.
“We will marry by special license as soon as one can be procured
,” he added. “Is that all right?”
“Yes, given the circumstances, that would be best. I’m not sure my mother will be particularly pleased, absurd as that sounds.” She faced forward again and frowned at that thought.
“Don’t worry about that. Father already insisted he be the one to inform your family, so there won’t be any mischief. You’re my betrothed now, and that means you have the Willowton name behind you, though you’ve really had it all along.” Chance smirked. His father would be exceedingly pleased, and Chance was very pleased, if a little uncomfortable. It was hard to focus with her bottom pressed against his groin. It took all his self-control to keep his thoughts banal enough to not shock her to her innocent toes. Cresting a hill, he could see the stables of her family’s small manor.
“I will leave you in the stables, if that is all right with you.”
“Of course.” She turned and smiled at him. “You smell like a cow pat.”
Chance chuckled. “I could say the same of you, porcupette.”
Chance returned home and changed. His father was resting in his room, so Chance headed to the Library to work on estate matters. A little while later, his father’s man summoned him to his room. Chance was surprised to find his father standing, leaning heavily on the windowsill as he looked out over the land.
“Father, should you be up?”
“It feel’s good to stretch my limbs occasionally. A man needs to move, Chance.”
“Not if it might kill you.”
The duke shuffled around to face him. “I’ll not leave this world until I see you put a ring on her finger. Do you have good news for me?”
“I do.” Chance took a seat on an ornate chair by the empty hearth. “Obedience is agreeable.”
“Good.” His father smiled. “I sent a letter to the Archbishop immediately after breakfast. He and I are long standing acquaintances, and he owes me a favor. ” The duke chuckled.
“She is also aware that the nuptials will be hasty.”
“Good, let the begetting of an heir also be hasty.”
“Father,” Chance groaned. “We can rush one, but I’m afraid the other is completely out of my hands.”
The duke sighed. “I can live with that. I look forward to the ceremony and having Obedience under our roof. She brings the warmth of the sun with her wherever she goes.”
“Yes, she certainly does,” Chance mused and thought of her barely clad bottom in the breeches. She certainly made him feel warmer. “When can we expect to hear from the Archbishop?”
“Most likely the end of the week, but I see no reason to delay our plans
. He won’t deny a dying man. Obedience may wish to have a dress made, you know how women are, and I wish to have dinner with her family, so I can inform them properly.”
“Obedience was grateful to have that burden shed from her shoulders.”
“Yes, well, dealing with her mother is as tricky as kissing a snake. I’ve seen it done, mind you, but I’ve never done it myself. If I can, I will spare Obedience any venom.”
Chance nodded. “It will be fine. With your reputation and my status in town, it would be social suicide to be cut from us.”
“Be that as it may, that woman is short a few bells in her steeple. I want to ensure there is nothing that could ruin the moment. It should be special, something you both will always remember without regret, though I will regret that things must be done in such haste.”
“Do not waste any more time with talk of regrets,
Father. Although unorthodox, this is still a time for celebration for all of us.”
“Ever the optimist, Chance. I know our tenant’s will be in good hands. They call me The Bear Duke
. Perhaps they will call you The Cheerful Duke.”
Chance chuckled. “I’ve been called far worse.” He stood,
stretching the tight muscles that were already bemoaning his afternoon ride. He turned back to his father. “I will be in the study if you have need of me.”
The duke grumbled something. Chance watched his father at the window. He was standing with his hands behind his back now, looking as imperious as he used to. If only the man could live for another few years, but something in Chances gut told
him that their time was precious, and his father seemed to know it, too. “I’ll see you at dinner?”
His father nodded and continued to look out the window. He looked at ease and content
. Chance was grateful for that.
After a quick bath, Obedience searched the house for her mother and sister. She didn’t intend to join them, whatever they were doing, rather she wanted to keep tally of their whereabouts so she could avoid them. Things were strained since the night of the dinner, and Obedience tried to avoid confrontation with her mother and sister at all costs. She felt like she was wearing her secrets on her sleeve, and she knew they would not be pleased about her latest conquest. She herself didn’t quite know what to make of it. Disbelief was still at the forefront of her emotions.
She approached the library slowly, hearing the mutter of feminine voices. She crept closer to the door and peeked in. Her mother and sister were bent over a table, paging through a book. Their backs were to her, but as Obedience stepped closer the floor creaked, and her mother’s head snapped around. Obedience froze, frightened by the intensity with which her mother glared at her.
“Oh, it’s you,” her mother said and turned back to the book.
Patience looked back, and Obedience saw that her eyes were red and puffy from crying. “Patience, are you all right?”
Her sister visibly shuddered and turned back to the table without saying a word. Obedience entered the library, a wave of suspicion overshadowing her fear. “What are you two up to?”
Her mother stood rigid and Obedience slowed as she came around the table. She glanced quickly over the book
“What business of it is yours? I did not raise you to be so meddlesome
,” her mother lashed at her verbally.
Obedience didn’t reply. Her attention was claimed by the defeated posture of her little sister, who had yet to acknowledge her. “Patience?”
Her sister slowly raised her eyes, blood shot and swollen. “What do you want? Haven’t you spoiled my life enough already?”
“Me?” Obedience scoffed. “I’ve done nothing of the sort.”
“You ruined my chances last night. I could have fixed everything if only you weren’t such a nuisance.”
Obedience rolled her eyes. “Did you think he would fall to your feet after one dinner? I have no magic power over Lord Willowton. If you failed to catch his attention
, then tis your own fault. I should have never gone along with such a fiendish conniving plan. He is, after all, a dear friend of mine, and I would never wish to see him wed to a viper like you.”