A GAME OF HAZARD, my story in the outstanding THE WEDDING WAGER anthology, is all polished and primed and I feel brave enough to share a couple of extracts with readers!
In the meantime, you can pre-order the whole collection at a discount price of $0.99 right HERE on AMAZON, NOOK, and iBooks. Authors include Collette Cameron, Chasity Bowlin, Emily Royal, Sydney J Baily, Rachel Ann Smith, Tabetha Waite, and Elizabeth Ellen Carter.
Let us begin with The Prologue (puts on Frankie Howerd voice here… and reveals ones age).
“I doubt there are many confirmed bachelors in Bath at this time of year.” Lady Octavia Sewell’s mouth thinned in a mirthless smile.
Her cousin, Lady Pandora Osbourne, turned away from the window. “Enough for me to make good my side of the wager, I can assure you.” In truth, she’d just spotted a determinedly-single gentleman she knew giving alms to a disabled beggar by Pulteney Bridge.
“But you have nowhere near the size of hunting ground you might have in London. Are you not nervous that you may fail to make good your boast of being the best matchmaker in the country? It’s September already, and the Bath season has yet to begin.”
“I’m not in the least bit nervous.” Pansy tucked a wayward silver curl beneath her lace-edged cap. “Who says I can’t make more than one match in a month? There’s plenty of time for me to win ownership of Grandmother’s diamond tiara. Why—I already have an idea for my next project.”
A rustle of silk and the heady scent of otto of roses proclaimed Octavia’s arrival at the window. “Your target is outside? Which one is he? He must be totally against wedlock, you understand, so if you’re thinking about marrying off that military officer talking to the veteran, you’re doomed from the start. He’s far too handsome to escape the parson’s mousetrap for long. You can’t choose him.”
Pansy smiled to herself. What her cousin did not know—because she was too lazy to do the research—was that the officer had not two pennies to rub together. He was therefore the perfect mark for her next scheme.
“That gentleman is Captain Giles Harewood. I happen to know that he can’t afford a wife because he’s supporting a brood of sisters. Despite his height, good looks, and measured charm, he can never marry well, so he has decided not to marry at all. Ask anyone who’s anyone in Bath—they’ll tell you.”
What the man needed to tempt him into wedlock was an heiress, but he had not a cat’s chance in hell of winning one. Unless she, the best matchmaker in England, stepped in to assist him…
“He has a kind heart, as well as his exceptional good looks, to recommend him.”
Lady Octavia snorted. “Neither of which will put food on the table, Pansy. I don’t know any mother prepared to let her daughter marry into poverty, no matter how unmarriageable the girl might be. If yon fellow really does have pockets to let, I fear he’s beyond even your skills.”
“Which makes the challenge of finding him a match even more enticing.”
Octavia abruptly turned away from the window and glared at Pansy, then broke into her tinkling laugh. “You’re serious, aren’t you, my dear? Well, I shall await developments with interest. But don’t forget the terms of our wager. Whoever you find to match with the good captain must be off the marriage market, on the shelf, a confirmed spinster—”
“Yes, yes. I haven’t forgotten the terms of our agreement. But I’ll need time to settle on a suitable young female now that I’ve picked my mark.”
“You must also hope that the captain will be staying in Bath. A military man might be called away at any moment.”
Pansy nodded solemnly, hoping the gleam in her eye was hidden from her cousin. Because she knew something Octavia did not, and that was that the impecunious Captain Giles Harewood planned to remain for some time in Bath in hopes of bringing in a prize that would make his fortune. He was after the leader of a massive smuggling network, believed to stretch from the Dorset coast up into Wiltshire, Hampshire, and even as far as Gloucestershire. The reward money had been increasing in direct relation to the annoyance of the customs officials, constantly deprived of their rightful revenue.
Sadly, the captain would find little assistance in Bath, since most of the wealthy residents bought their tea, fine lace, tobacco, and brandy as contraband. At least—their housekeepers and stewards did. The ton wouldn’t sully their hands by dealing directly with such low-life.
But if Pansy were to drop hints, she might encourage him to stay long enough to put her matchmaking plan into action. Lady Octavia needn’t know what methods she employed—she’d never agreed when they’d made the wager that she would play fair.
Pansy reached for the quizzing glass that hung around her neck and gazed at the two men across the street. “Remind me, cousin, of what you consider to be ineligible? In a young woman, I mean.”
“She must be too short or too tall, too fat or too thin, preferably poor as a church mouse, with a bad complexion, a lisp, a squint, bad breath, or red hair and freckles, for good measure.”
Pansy groaned inwardly at Lady Octavia’s shallow assessment of womanhood. “Not every man cares about a lady’s looks. Or the size of her purse.”
“Ha! I defy you to find any that don’t. I can’t imagine a single fellow at the Assembly Rooms next week who won’t be tempted by either beauty or a fortune. Unless he’s a fool.”
Pansy continued to stare out the window. The captain had been joined by another scarlet-clad officer, and both had moved away from the beggar, their heads close like fellow conspirators. She must engineer a meeting with Harewood very soon and take his measure so that she knew how to proceed.
There was a flurry of movement beyond the glass, and she pulled back from the window with a gasp.
“What is it?” Octavia hurried to her side.
“Only that the one-legged beggar by the bridge is a fake—a trickster of the worst kind. He has just unfolded his ‘missing’ leg, pocketed his capful of coins and dashed off toward Sydney Gardens. Our heroic warrior has wasted alms on the undeserving.”
“Ah. So, Giles Harewood has been made a fool of. I told you that the possession of a generous heart was a failing. You’ll have your work cut out for you, cousin. I’m going to celebrate the fact with a glass of sherry—if you have no objection.”
“Help yourself.” The sherry was good, her supplier reliable. Pansy wished she could say the same for the brandy—weak as a virgin’s water. She must tell her butler to have words with the wall-eyed ruffian who sold them the liquor. The man always delivered after dark, and she had no illusions about the source of her brandy. Nor did she believe that the correct duties had been paid. But since everyone got their luxuries this way, she felt no guilt.
Maybe Captain Giles Harewood would be less of a problem than she’d supposed. If he could be hoodwinked by a beggar, she would surely be able to manipulate him into marrying whomsoever she chose.
Grandmother’s tiara would be hers by Christmas.
I’ll be posting Chapter One shortly.