Patricia Rice This Magic Moment

ISBN 13: 9781522607328

This Magic Moment

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9781522607328: This Magic Moment

A Desperate Duke

Everything about Lord Harry's easygoing life is about to change. After unexpectedly inheriting the title of duke of Sommersville, he's also discovered it comes with a load of debt. To save the estate, he's going to need money. Lots of it—and quick.

A Free-Spirited Duchess

Lady Christina has no problem with Harry marrying her for her dowry. After all, they've been friends since childhood. But gone is the laughing, charming boy she once knew. And she won't share anything of herself until she gets that Harry back. No matter how tempting he proves to be...

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About the Author:

With five million books in print and New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists under her belt, Patricia Rice's emotionally charged contemporary and historical romances have won RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice and Career Achievement Awards. A former CPA, Patricia is a native of Kentucky and New York, and currently resides in St. Louis, MO.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

London, March 1755

"It's all written 'ere in the mortgage, Your Grace, signed by your late father-may his soul rest in peace-in his own hand." Heavily bewigged, garbed in an opulent blue satin coat with gold braiding and a waistcoat that could not button over his rich belly, Carthage waved a thick document like a sword.

The document was more dangerous than a sword if the merchant did not lie. Harrison Winston Somerset Beaufort Winchester, Duke of Sommersville, until recently styled Lord Harry, gripped his elegant walking stick behind the tails of his London-tailored coat and gritted his teeth as Carthage continued his speech.

"Yer father said I'm to take the estate in trade for the money 'e owes if 'e don't come up with the blunt by Michaelmas next," Carthage proclaimed.

Aristocratically handsome in the English manner of fair coloring, square jaw, and sturdy though not excessive height, the new duke gazed out at the soot-covered stones of the town house across the square, impatiently listening to the spiel of a man he scarcely knew. To all present the duke looked a man of leisure, a city gentleman of taste and refinement without a care in the world.

Inside, he boiled with fury, like Vesuvius prepared to erupt.

"Sommersville is entailed," he said coldly, not bothering to engage the eye of the merchant rattling his faradiddle behind him. He knew Carthage owned an estate in the neighborhood of Sommersville. He could not imagine why the man thought to take advantage of the newness of Harry's role as duke to perpetrate this obvious fraud. "The estate cannot be sold. You have no legal right to make this claim."

In truth, he knew nothing about law or rights. He simply knew that his father's estate had passed through generations of Winchesters dating back to the Conqueror's time, growing from an inconsequential barony to fifteen thousand acres of imposing ducal estates. He might not be the son raised to estate duties, but by Jove, he wouldn't be the son who lost the whole damned property his ancestors had spent generations accumulating.

Could dukes keep their title if they had no estate? he wondered irrelevantly. He'd never possessed any inclination for the title, given that it would mean losing his father, older brother, and his brother's progeny to gain it.

But that was exactly what had happened. At least, his brother had no progeny to lose. Harry almost wished Edward had an infant son to inherit. He would fare far better as legal executor than as owner of fifteen thousand prime acres of Sussex. Mortgaged acres, evidently.

The late duke might have been eccentric, but Harry had loved his father and knew he wasn't a wastrel who would gamble away his livelihood. Or hadn't been, last he'd seen of him. Maybe he should have visited Sussex more often. His father refused to come to London, and Harry kept promising to visit yet seldom did. They had their differences, as any family had, but he refused to believe his father had gone completely mad.

He stifled a yawning pit of regret beneath anger.

He wished the old man could be here now to explain this tomfoolery. And if his older brother could just walk through that wall and punch Carthage in the beak for his presumptuousness, he'd never taunt Edward again for his mulish preference for rural life.

As it was, he'd never taunt his brother again, unless he talked to his grave. Given the family predilections, he might be reduced to that soon. Losing brother and father in the same fatal accident was enough to drive a man to seeking lost souls.

But Harry had an image to uphold if he meant to keep his position in politics, so he wouldn't be talking to graves anytime soon.

"Your Grace."

Harry ignored the unctuous voice of the solicitor Carthage had brought with him in favor of gazing at the house across the square.

He was finally rewarded with the familiar sight of a golden-haired sylph dashing down the front steps, lifting her full skirt to reveal slim legs garbed in men's boots and what looked suspiciously like the glitter of a buckle below the knee of a pair of breeches. Knowing the wretch, he supposed she did it apurpose to mock him. Instead of waving at his window, she checked over her shoulder to be certain no one followed-as someone certainly should have-then danced down the street to where a cart and horse waited.

His betrothed, Lady Christina Malcolm Childe-beautiful and cheerful as a sunny day, undisciplined as the worst-mannered street urchin. He couldn't help smiling every time he looked at her.

He allowed the smile to play on his face as he turned to face Carthage, his solicitor, and Jack-his estate steward, distant cousin, and the closest he had to a father now. "I have other business to see to, gentlemen. Jack, have the family solicitor look into this, will you? I'm certain he'll be able to straighten out these good fellows."

As the younger son raised for politics, Harry was very good at polished diplomacy. He simply wasn't familiar with his father's holdings. He didn't even know the name of the family solicitor, unless it was the fellow who sent his allowance.

Despite his unparalleled ignorance, Harry quirked his eyebrows imperiously at his company and waited for them to depart.

Instead of leaving, Carthage crossed his arms, and his black-clad solicitor dared to approach the desk. Jack nervously crushed his battered leather tricorne, not speaking a word to gainsay them. Of middling height, wiry build, and balding pate, Jack was a veritable encyclopedia of all things rural, but he was out of his element in the city.

"Your Grace," the solicitor continued. "If you will but hear us out, we can make this matter plain. Your brother never signed the entailment."

What? Harry wanted to shout, but of course, he couldn't. Dukes didn't shout. They couldn't have temper tantrums either. They raised cool eyebrows, nodded regally at those below them-which was almost everyone-and went about their business. As he should go about his. Not that he had a clue what business to go about since he'd never had any.

"I beg your pardon," Harry said with the aristocratic hauteur of his betters. "The estates have been entailed since the twelfth century. I doubt that my brother had much to do with it."

"That's just it, my... Your Grace," the solicitor said eagerly. "Each heir accepts the entailment with his signature upon attaining his majority. Your brother didn't sign it."

Cold sweat slid down Harry's spine, but he smiled negligently and swung his walking stick with the cool aplomb of a man without a worry in the world. Politics taught a fellow that. "Edward would have done nothing to endanger Sommersville," he said confidently. "If you will only consult with my solicitor, you will see that all is in proper order."

"It ain't, Your Grace," Carthage intruded. "Me and your brother talked it over. He didn't sign it apurpose. He knew the old man was bankruptin' the place and that he'd need the blunt to live on. We had an agreement, me and him. We would build homes for toffs like me. It's an ideal situation..."

"Jack!" Harry roared, finally losing his patience at the enormous folly and presumption of the man. "Show these gentlemen out at once, and don't dare to let them in my presence again."

Striding across the study, Harry threw open the door, prepared to call for his butler and footmen if necessary.

Apologetically, Jack bowed and gestured for their guests to depart. A footman magically appeared to escort them away. Harry knew the servants had been listening at the door again, but he could scarce blame them. Since his father never used it, he had always occupied his father's London town home. The place had been hell and chaos since the news of the double deaths of the duke and the marquess.

Jack closed the door behind their uninvited guests. Despite his kinship to one of the great families of the kingdom, Harry's cousin wore his gray hair clubbed in a black ribbon and sported the coarse cloth of country clothes. With solemn expression, he forced Harry into staying instead of running off to follow Christina. "It's time you face facts, lad."

Jack had called him "lad" since he'd been in shortcoats. Harry couldn't pull rank on him now. In truth, he was desperate for Jack's sage advice. His cousin had handled the family estates since before Edward's birth. Jack would never have come up to London if it hadn't been a matter of dire emergency.

With a sigh, Harry sank into his desk chair and swiveled it back and forth. "Can't you face them for me, Jack? I know nothing of tenant rent or pence per acre or what crop we should seed this spring. Tell me what agricultural bill would most likely help us, and I'll stand up before all Parliament and argue them into it, but don't make me count sheep."

"You're bankrupt, Harry. You won't have sheep to count if something isn't done soon. Carthage has it right. If you can't pay off that piece of paper of his, you'll lose everything."

The bleakness that had come over Harry ever since the first creditor had appeared on his doorstep replaced the moment of hope he'd experienced at sight of Christina. He'd never owed a farthing he couldn't pay the next day. He didn't know how it had come to this.

"My father had an income of over fifty thousand pounds per annum, Jack," he protested. "He could have built Rome and London and had blunt left to spend. Where did it all go?"

Jack held out his big palms in a helpless gesture. "He frittered it away building that monstrosity he called home. He didn't care much about the land after your mother died. You know that."

"But Edward did! He lived for counting sheep. Couldn't he have taken things in hand?"

"Lately, he caught the building bug just like your father. He wanted to build fancy new cottages and move the village out of sight. He spent more time talking to architects and landscapers than to his own tenants. Money has to be managed to grow, and no one's managed yours in many a year. We haven't seen fifty thousand in a long time."

To Harry, even half of fifty thousand was a sum so enormous that he couldn't imagine spending it in a lifetime, much less a year. Even living in the expensive town house, he'd carefully managed his two thousand pound allowance to cover his living expenses with sufficient left over to invest. His parliamentary duties for his father's pocket borough were light but offered opportunities for investment and earning a little extra. He lived quite comfortably on his income.

He didn't see how his father and brother could have spent fifty thousand in the entire course of their lives. They didn't come up to London or have wives or daughters to eat up the income with gowns and new furniture and entertaining. Harry couldn't remember the last time his father had entertained.

"I'll go to Sommersville and take a look at the books," Harry agreed wearily. "They must have snugged it away somewhere."

"I keep the books, Harry," Jack reminded him. "There's nothing to snug away and debts higher than a mountain waiting to be paid. We need cash just to buy seed and plant the fields this spring. There's none will lend us a tuppence until your father's debts have been paid."

"I'll talk to our creditors," Harry said desperately. "Maybe they can be made to wait another year. Surely, once the rents are paid in the fall-"

Jack shook his head. "We need to show them cash up front. The dowry your betrothed brings will hold them off until the fall. You need to set a date and marry, Harry."

Marry! The new duke collapsed in his chair and swung around to gaze out the floor-length window. Christina was nowhere in sight: happy Christina, blithe Christina, addlepated, mischievous witch Christina.

A duchess?

***

April 1755

"Lord Harry has made an appointment to see your father this afternoon," Cousin Lucinda announced excitedly, entering Christina's bedchamber without knocking.

"The Most Noble the Duke of Sommersville, you mean." Christina plopped down on the edge of the bed and began to pry off her boots. "Or His Grace, the Duke of Sommersville." She dropped the boot on the faded carpet and pried off the other. Then she shimmied out of her half brother's breeches and stockings. "I expect he's come to cry off."

"Christina!" Shocked-not by her cousin's breeches but by her assertion-Lucinda tucked the outlandish clothes into their usual place in the bottom of the armoire. "He cannot do that. You have been betrothed for ages."

With the ease of expertise, Christina untied the old skirt that hid her breeches. She'd spent these past weeks exploring inside London's inner city walls looking for the ghost of Hans Holbein, the artist Lucinda most admired. It was much easier-and less conspicuous-to skulk about disguised in boy's clothing.

"Sinda, my dear, do you remember when all London whispered in astonishment after you painted the portrait of the earl's daughter in her casket-before the child died?"

Lucinda clasped her fingers and looked nervous. "I thought they'd ride me out of town on a rail. I want my work to be recognized, but not in such a fashion. I don't mean to do these things," she murmured, "but if anyone notices this latest..."

"You really should quit doing portraits and work anonymously," Christina chided her. "One of these days, there will be no one about to rescue you from these muddles. I'm sure I can get you out of this one if I could only speak with Holbein's ghost. He persuaded society that his artistic fantasies were fashionable and not dangerous."

"I'm not dangerous," Sinda insisted. "I didn't even know Lord Pelham. I couldn't know he would die. I just painted what I saw in my head."

"You see people die before they do. That's dangerous. I found Holbein's grave in St. Andrews, but his ghost doesn't haunt it," Christina offered. "If I only knew which house he died in, it might help. If he could draw all those macabre pictures of people dying and be celebrated for it, I don't know why you can't."

"Because he was a man and not a Malcolm," Lucinda said with a touch more acid than was her usual habit. "Besides, even if you found Holbein's ghost, he'd speak German. You have too much imagination for your own good. I thank you for your efforts, but what has any of this to do with Harry?"

"The reason you weren't run out of town last time was because Harry laughed at the gossips," Christina said matter-of-factly, unhooking her too-large bodice to slip out of the man's shirt she'd worn under it. "Harry told everyone he met that Malcolms were always good for a little amusement, and he poked fun at their ‘superstition.' He is such a popular fellow that everyone was too embarrassed to condemn you after he belittled their fears."

"Oh, how thoughtful of him! I had no idea." Sinda watched Christina with curiosity. "But that means he's perfect for you."

"Sinda, you aren't listening. He doesn't believe in our Malcolm gifts. He takes nothing seriously. When I tell him about my ghost hunts, he calls me his ‘imaginative little creature.' I vow, he asked for my hand because it kept us both from having to seriously enga...

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Book Description Audible Studios on Brilliance, 2016. CD-Audio. Book Condition: New. Unabridged. Language: English . Brand New. A Desperate Duke Everything about Lord Harry s easygoing life is about to change. After unexpectedly inheriting the title of duke of Sommersville, he s also discovered it comes with a load of debt. To save the estate, he s going to need money. Lots of it--and quick. A Free-Spirited Duchess Lady Christina has no problem with Harry marrying her for her dowry. After all, they ve been friends since childhood. But gone is the laughing, charming boy she once knew. And she won t share anything of herself until she gets that Harry back. No matter how tempting he proves to be. Bookseller Inventory # BRI9781522607328

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Book Description Audible Studios on Brilliance, 2016. CD-Audio. Book Condition: New. Unabridged. Language: English . Brand New. A Desperate Duke Everything about Lord Harry s easygoing life is about to change. After unexpectedly inheriting the title of duke of Sommersville, he s also discovered it comes with a load of debt. To save the estate, he s going to need money. Lots of it--and quick. A Free-Spirited Duchess Lady Christina has no problem with Harry marrying her for her dowry. After all, they ve been friends since childhood. But gone is the laughing, charming boy she once knew. And she won t share anything of herself until she gets that Harry back. No matter how tempting he proves to be. Bookseller Inventory # BRI9781522607328

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