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His Perfect Bride

By:Jenn Langston

I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to everyone who helped make  this dream of being published possible. Thank you all for everything  you have done for me.

To my wonderful husband and three beautiful children for supporting me and giving me the time to pursue my love of writing.

To my mom and dad who have always had faith in me, even when I lost mine.

To my phenomenal critique group who have been there for me and helped me more than I can possibly say.

To my beta readers who are always willing to read unedited material and never afraid to speak the truth.

To the NHRWA and WHRWA chapters who have offered knowledge, advice, and encouragement.

And to Debby Gilbert with Soul Mate Publishing for making my dream come true.

Chapter 1

"Bloody Hell, Greyson! That's the last crown I'll lose to you!" Jonathan Alastair exclaimed, tossing the cards across the table.

"As I have told you before, if you don't know how to play, you should  not bet so much," Greyson Thorpe calmly replied, pocketing his winnings.

Richard Carrack, Marquis of Stonemede turned, smiling at the familiar  banter between his best friends. He'd only been absent for six months,  but it reassured him to see some things didn't change. The argument had  gone on for years since Greyson was almost unbeatable with a deck of  cards, and Jonathan lacked the ability to refuse a challenge, regardless  of the odds against him.

"Have a care, gentlemen. I have recently returned from Stonemede, and  all you wish to do is squabble," Richard reproached, feigning offense.  "I would prefer hearing about everything I missed these past months than  about Jonathan's inability to play cards."

"I'm wounded." Jonathan placed his hand over his heart. "I'm known to be  quite skilled at cards. Greyson, on the other hand, cheats."

Rather than taking the bait, Greyson continued to collect his cards, his  face as unreadable as usual. Richard noticed a slight change in his  demeanor, but decided it best not to draw attention. Jonathan was a good  friend, but occasionally he would unwittingly push Greyson too far.

Richard had met Greyson at Eton and after assisting him in an unfair  fight, the two boys had developed a quick friendship. Shortly after  that, they met Jonathan and the three were hardly seen apart throughout  their boyhood.

"Honestly, Richard, I must say, things have been rather dull around here  during your absence. However, I did manage to obtain several  ex-mistresses," Jonathan announced proudly.

"I have never understood why you can't stick with one," Richard commented.

"I agree, for I have found little differences between women. One is just  as good as any other." Greyson's tone was bored as he took another sip  of brandy.

"Ah, but you are wrong. They're sweet confections and when you pull off  the wrapping, you find how truly different they all are," Jonathan  contended.

Richard laughed and Greyson rolled his eyes. Silently Richard found  himself agreeing with Greyson. He enjoyed female companionship, but they  were all interchangeable, which suited him fine. He'd kept his latest  mistress for almost a year, but had dismissed her shortly before his  return to Stonemede.

When his father unexpectedly passed away six months before, Richard  returned to the place of his birth to take over as the Marquis of  Stonemede. The estate was in good order and through his good planning,  he managed to keep informed of the state of affairs for several years  before his father's death. Between the information he gathered from his  father and from the butler, he was well groomed for the position. His  father kept Stonemede running to the highest efficiency, and Richard was  determined to live up to his father's standards.

"I trust the club has been faring better than Jonathan's mistresses?" Richard asked.

"I resent that comment. I paid them handsomely for their services, and  they were all quite satisfied when I left their beds," Jonathan said  with a rakish grin. "But you are correct. The club has been doing very  well."

"Actually, with the amount of new members, we have become competition for the others," Greyson added.

"Good, they deserve declining clientele with all the stipulations they place on membership," Richard observed.

The three men had started a club, Ravenhurst, years ago after Greyson  was denied membership to a prestigious club due to his parentage. Out of  loyalty and to send a statement, Richard and Jonathan immediately quit  the club. Shortly thereafter, they began one of their own. At first,  Ravenhurst existed as a private place for the three of them to meet;  however, as time went on, other acquaintances were invited until it  became necessary to establish a more official arrangement.         



With Richard's good business sense, he'd managed the business side of  the club proficiently for all these years. He'd been reluctant to turn  his position over to Greyson, but Stonemede was now his priority.  Regardless, he still planned on being an active participant in the  business dealings, at least from afar. The ideals they established for  the club were too important to him to turn his back on it or his  friends.

"Barton's actually offered to buy the club from us. They offered a  nominal figure and had the gall to be put out by our refusal," Greyson  informed him.

"It's good to know we have their attention. It is rather amusing to  think of how many of them laughed in our faces when they discovered our  intent," Richard said in remembrance. The friends smiled at each other,  proud of their success.

"So, business aside, how are things at Stonemede?" Jonathan asked. "We didn't expect you to return before the year was up."

Richard winced, taking a long drink of his brandy. He knew he eventually  had to explain his purpose in returning, but it still made him cringe.

"Everything has been running smoothly over the years. As anticipated, my  father kept excellent records and ran the estate effectively."

"How are your mother and Elizabeth handling everything?" Greyson inquired.

"They are as well as can be expected. Mother is strictly adhering to her  mourning. During the six months, I never saw her go as far as cracking a  smile. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is getting rather bored and  anxious to re-enter London's society."

"Your sister was never one to idly sit in a single place for too long," Jonathan observed.

"Unfortunately that quality makes her rather hard to live with."

His sister had been preparing for her first Season in London when they  received news of their father's illness. Rushing to Stonemede, they were  awarded less than an hour of time with him before he passed from this  world, smiling until the end. Since Hamilton Carrack was a highly  respected lord, it was a difficult time for not only the family, but the  servants and tenants as well. Time offered its healing hands to ease  the pain, and until then, Richard assured everyone he would be as great a  lord as his father.

"Is your sister's restlessness what brought you back so soon?" Greyson guessed.

"No, I have come at my mother's urging . . . to take a bride before the Season is over."

At the stunned silence, as well as the flabbergasted expressions on his  friend's faces, he knew it wasn't the answer they expected. Amused by  their reaction, he laughed until Greyson and Jonathan reclaimed  themselves enough to school their expressions.

"Your mother urged, and you came? You sure have changed, for I have  never known you to do anything that didn't suit your goals," Jonathan  said.

"My mother simply pointed out the quickest way to help the estate  through their grief would be to bring a new marchioness home. I agree  with her reasoning." At their disbelieving faces, he added, "I'm thirty  years of age, and I now have a duty to Stonemede that requires my  presence. If I take a bride soon, the deed will be done, and I'll be at  my leisure to do as I please."

"Seems reasonable," Greyson said, apparently stunned at the revelation.

"It does not. Why would you want to tie yourself to one woman so early  in life? Women are meant to be enjoyed in large quantities like a fine  brandy. If you decide on one bottle, when you have drained it, you are  only left with an empty bottle." Jonathan's outrage rang in every word.

"I don't intend to drain my wife. She is merely going to be an ornament  to decorate my home and comply with my demands. Nothing will change in  my life, except the household matters will no longer fall to my mother. I  will also have the added benefit of procuring heirs."

"So, your requirements are for her to only be beautiful and obedient?" Greyson asked, leaning forward and cupping his chin.

"Certainly, however obedience rules out. If she isn't calm and soft spoken, it matters not what she looks like."

"How long do you suspect it will take you to obtain this perfect bride?"

"Not very long, for I suspect many of the ladies are trained to be what I  would consider the perfect wife. My requirements are not unusual, as  I'm not asking for much. Do either of you know any of the ladies this  Season that would suit?"