An Attempted Engagement (Book Four)
An Attempted Engagement (Book Four)
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A swoony story of hidden messages, love letters, and stolen kisses. Only one thing stands between Alice Loughton and the man of her dreams: her brother. This sweet historical romance can be enjoyed as a stand alone or as part of the Victorian Grand Tour series. Pick up a e-book for your reader or an exclusive signed paperback for your collection today!
- Brother's Best Friend
- Love Letters
- Secret, Forbidden Romance
- Victorian Grand Tour Series
- Book 4 of 6
- 238 pages
Only one thing stands between Alice Loughton and the man of her dreams: her brother.
Alice has been quiet and shy ever since she met Frederick Kempton at age three. When she decides it’s time to marry, there’s only one man for her. The one man who doesn’t frighten her. The only man she can talk to without wanting to run and hide. Her brother’s best friend, who happens to also work right there in their home.
But her brother knows Frederick Kempton too well, and he’s
not about to give his consent for a courtship, not when plenty of richer men are pursuing Alice. And so obedient Alice, who has never broken a rule in her life, is forced to take drastic measures.
And she’s dragged Freddie along with her. Can he walk the fine line between loyalty to his oldest friend and a chance to woo the woman he’s secretly loved?
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Alice Loughton should not have read that book. Not there, with him sitting
nearby. Not then, when her brother would ask her about it. Not ever, because of the ideas it put into her head.
She cleared her throat. “Are you sure you wish to hear it, Curtis? It’s of no import. Merely an etiquette book. Small talk, how to be well-dressed, the superior hostess. That sort of thing.”
Curtis and Freddie exchanged grins. Her brother nodded. “I love those old advice manuals. Ridiculous. We need a laugh tonight, right, Rachel?”
Curtis pulled his wife closer on the sofa built especially for two. Freddie had ordered it while Curtis and Rachel spent a holiday in Brighton for their honeymoon. He’d gone to several shops to find something the right size, as Curtis had requested, “for a man to adore his wife.” Freddie’s interpretation was a sofa just barely wide enough for two people to sit together.
Curtis adored it.
Alice perched on a chintz wingback chair by the fireplace, trying to ignore the sentimental scene across the room. Freddie rested casually in a matching chair, seemingly unembarrassed. Nothing
Except the incident between them on Curtis’s wedding day, when she’d realized Freddie might make a good groom himself. She’d seen a hint of panic in his eyes as they left the chapel, and then he’d bolted after the wedding breakfast. Freddie had avoided her the entire time Curtis and Rachel were away.
Now the sweethearts were back, and Freddie seemed to think it was safe to venture into the drawing room with her again.
How wrong he was.
“It’s a silly bit of old gossip.
Surely, on your first night home, you’d rather tell us about the Royal Pavilion and the seaside.” Alice marked her place with a ribbon.
Curtis laughed. “No, no. Read on. I’d like to hear it.”
Oh dear. “Just a bit then. ‘The word adoration is derived from kissing. It means literally to apply to the mouth. Therefore girls should beware those who may ask them with seemingly harmless intent, May I adore you?’”
Curtis burst into uproarious
laughter while Rachel smiled at her. Freddie grinned widely and said, “May I adore you, Alice?”
Their eyes met, and she saw mischief there. Alice relaxed into her chair. All was forgiven. They were friends again, and he could tease her as he always did.
“Are you finally allowing Kempton to call you by your given name?” Rachel asked. “It’s been long enough. I must say it simplifies things at home.” She turned to Freddie. “And what is she calling
They answered at the same time.
He left his chair and affected an indignant posture, gesturing to himself. “This dignified gentleman? How could I be anything other than Frederick?” He appealed to Curtis and Rachel. “I ask you. Am I not the very model of a modern gentleman? Refined? Polished?”
Alice couldn’t help noticing the wave of his dark brown hair, the perfect sideburns, the fit of his vest and trousers. He spent as much time exercising as her brother did, and it showed.
Alice snapped her book shut. This was the perfect opportunity to divert the conversation away from adoration. “What does your family call you?”
Freddie assumed a regal pose. “Frederick the Great.”
Curtis smirked. “How very
unpatriotic of them.”
Freddie slumped onto the chair across from her. “Very well. My father, mother, older brother, four sisters, eight nieces and four nephews all call me Freddie.”
“And me,” Alice said, smiling. “It suits you better.” She would prefer to open her book and resume reading, but she did not dare. She knew she would blush if her brother asked her to read any more advice aloud. To be caught reading the section on “Love-Kisses” while she sat across from the man she had envisioned kissing was mortifying.
Rachel studied her, glancing at the closed book on the table and her downcast eyes. She always seemed to sense Alice’s discomfort when Curtis did not. “When is the Old Lion arriving?” Rachel asked. “I actually missed your grandfather while we were away.”
Curtis’s face changed instantly, lines of tension tightening his expression. “He’ll be early. He asked me to invite Kempton. It’s time to tell them about Uncle Abridge.” He grimaced.
Rachel snuggled against her
husband’s side. “Oh dear.”
What’s wrong? Alice felt as
though she’d walked into the banister or tripped over her slippers again. The air left her lungs, and her stomach tightened. Then another thought crashed into her.
Freddie hadn’t come early to see her or spend time talking. Curtis had arranged it. She’d hoped that the easy friendship between her brother and her brother’s oldest friend would continue when Curtis returned from his honeymoon in Brighton.
Now she wasn’t so sure that things had been set to rights. Freddie acted natural and easy, but he knew her mind.
She wanted to marry someone, and she’d decided he would do. She couldn’t talk to any other man without stammering or meet another man’s gaze without blushing.
She’d realized Freddie would make an excellent groom himself at her brother’s wedding and begun to take action. She’d drawn herself too close to him when she’d taken his arm to march down the aisle behind Curtis and Rachel. She’d marched a little too slowly and smiled too encouragingly.
After years of being spurned by Alice, his shock had been apparent. And then when she’d held on to his arm a little too long at the carriage and sat a little too close inside, his surprise had changed to utter panic. He saw right through her, as he always did, and he had not responded the way she’d expected. It was no wonder that Freddie had kept his distance these last weeks. He was terrified of marriage and of her and of marriage to her.
Alice slipped her mother’s watch out of her pocket, her only reminder of the parent who had died giving birth to the sister she’d also lost.
How early would Grandfather be, and how late would this dreadful evening go? How long would the misery last?
Freddie cleared his throat. “Quarter ‘til,” he said, indicating his own pocket watch.
Alice smiled. “Twenty ‘til the hour. You’ve set your watch five minutes ahead, so you’ll always arrive early.”
“I’m always on time.” Freddie preened, his mouth curled in his usual half-grin.
Why were her eyes drawn to him this evening? Meeting his twinkling gaze was like falling into the depths of a book. His dark brown eyes drew her in and promised mysteries would unfold, if only she would keep probing beyond the first few lines of his story.
But her face was usually the open book, not his. She blinked, and he was twirling his hat and staring into the fire, as if they hadn’t promised to explore eternity together for one moment.
Grandfather entered the room, grim and serious. Alice tucked her mother’s watch away. What could possibly be so urgent that he requested to speak privately with them?
Freddie moved to the fireplace and stood with his back to the room. Alice had noticed how often he discreetly removed himself from family conversations. He still overheard everything, but he had a way of making himself invisible when necessary.
Freddie selected a fireplace tool and dislodged one of the logs, urging the flames higher.
Grandfather took one look at her and sighed. How had she disappointed him already?
“I haven’t died yet, Alice,” he said quietly. “Your uncle, on the other hand…”
She gasped as Grandfather shrugged and settled onto a sofa across from Curtis and Rachel.
Freddie turned around, obviously listening in on the private exchange. “The marquis is dead? He seemed in perfect health last time I saw him.”
Curtis rubbed a hand over his face. “As his doctor, I’ve gone to great trouble to maintain that illusion. He’s not dead, but he’s in poor health.”
Alice sighed and moved over to sit next to Grandfather and rested her head on his shoulder. “Does that mean we must move to one of your estates after the Season?”
Grandfather took her hands in his. “It means you have to marry as quickly as possible before the fortune hunters understand your brother is heir to a dukedom. Right now, they see it as a remote possibility. They don’t know the size of your dowry. Well, except Kempton here. The others assume your cousin may yet have a son or two. Once your uncle dies, there will be no question of who will inherit. Loughton will be the marquis before the Season is over.”
Freddie pursed his lips. “Will we require an additional secretary to handle duties relating to the estates? Can I make inquires discreetly? Are you pleased with the stewards at each estate, or shall we need new ones as well?”
Grandfather stared at him. “You’re his closest friend, and a gentleman of means. If you choose to spend your time as his personal secretary, that’s your decision. I didn’t ask you here to increase your workload. I asked you here to protect Alice. We must find her a husband. No one can learn the size of her dowry or her uncle’s true condition.”