How To Play the Game of Love
Historical Romance Novel
Ladies of Passion: Book 1
He’s everything she thinks she doesn’t want.
When Miss Rose Wellesley’s father threatens an arranged marriage, she knows she’d better settle on a choice quickly or end up having no say in who she marries. Fortunately, she’s garnered a rare invitation to Lady Dunlop’s “Week of Love” house party, an annual affair notorious for matchmaking. Her plans to expedite a proposal would go smoothly if not for the brash younger sister she must chaperone, her outspoken, disagreeable best friend, and the bullish Lord Hartfell who seems determined to dog her every step.
Lord Hartfell embodies every last thing Rose dislikes in a man. He’s domineering, tenacious, argumentative, and a little too casual with his nudity for her tastes. Worst of all, Rose can’t seem to get him—or his kisses—out of her mind.
Rose is determined to find a more appropriate husband, even if her heart disagrees with how unsuitable the stubborn lord is…
Behind the book
Late April, 1813
“Is that Emily calling?” I twisted to look behind me, though unless I spontaneously developed the ability to see through solid objects, my view of freedom would remain impeded by the dull, black wall of the closed carriage.
To my left, my boney sister Daisy leaned past me to peer out the coach window opposite the door. With a talent that only sisters possess, she elbowed me in precisely the same place as she had every other time she’d checked our progress. I winced.
“I don’t hear her,” Daisy said.
On my right, my friend Mary batted the stray strands of my sister’s straw-blond hair that fell into her face. She wore such a bitter scowl it darkened the closed carriage like we’d bottled up a coach full of the London smog to take with us. “Of course you don’t hear her. Why would your maid be calling? We’re still moving.”
Daisy dug her elbow even farther into my stomach as she pressed forward. “Is that Lady Dunlop’s manor?”
Please let it be the manor.
The conveyance slowed. I vaulted past Daisy to the carriage door, trying not to trip over the legs of the two women in the seat opposite. Before the wheels came to a complete stop, I gathered my skirt and leaped for the ground. Freedom. I gulped in a lungful of clean air and bathed my face in the bleary sunlight drifting down from the overcast sky.
I must look a fright. No worse than poor Emily. Seated on the high ledge next to the driver, her skin had turned a sickly shade of green-tinged white. Oh, dear. As she shakily descended from the seat, I hurried to her side, careful not to spook the horses. The moment I slid my hand beneath her elbow, Emily’s knees gave way and she leaned against me.
“I’ll be fine in a moment, now that we’ve stopped.” She spoke in a voice as insubstantial as she looked.
I fumbled one-handed at the draw strings to my reticule. “I have smelling salts.”
“No.” The white rim around her lips grew as she pressed them harder together. “I’ll lose my lunch.”
“Did you eat lunch?”
“I’ll lose yesterday’s lunch.”
If she felt well enough to make jokes, she wasn’t on death’s door. I stopped the driver as he pulled down the steps to help the others exit the carriage. They could wait a moment more. With my help, Emily crossed the packed dirt to sit on the sturdy steps. She leaned her elbows against the knees of her faded yellow walking dress, one of my cast-offs. I doffed my white shawl and wrapped her in it.
She tried to shrug it off. “No, Miss Rose, I’ll be fine.”
“Are you afraid someone will mistake you for me?” I smiled, inviting her to share the joke.
The corners of her mouth barely twitched. Her blond hair, which caused many to think she was another Wellesley sister, hung limp at her temples. I wiped the sweat-matted strands away from her forehead.
“You could have stayed home,” I murmured.
“And leave you to fend for yourself? Never.” Her smile bared her teeth this time, though it didn’t reach her blue eyes.
“I’m sure Francine’s maid wouldn’t have minded dressing me and her, if I’d asked.”
Emily shook her head. “She’s afraid of you.”
I recoiled. “Why?”
Her dirty-blond eyebrows, a shade darker than mine, shot up. “You’re a lot to handle.”
I am not. I opened my mouth, but shut it again. “You never complain.”
A twinkle invaded her gaze. The corners of her mouth turned up. “I had practice with your sisters before they handed me off to you.”
With a groan, Emily started to stand. The motion chased away what little color had returned to her cheeks. I shooed her back into place. “Sit. The others can wait a moment or two longer or jump down without the stairs.”
“I have to direct the footmen in retrieving your trunk.”
“I’ll do that.” I laid my hand on her shoulder to keep her from trying to stand while I found a footman. In the wide courtyard of churned, packed dirt that tipped the long drive cutting through the trees, too many footmen teemed. They moved in a dizzying mass of multicolored liveries between the rectangular stable to the west, the carriages parked under a long awning beneath the tree line, and the lofty four-story manor. Judging by the crammed space, we were one of the last guests to arrive. I blamed Francine, and the constant stops to examine plants throughout the two-day journey from London, even if they had given Emily a respite from her motion sickness.
A mountain of a man loped from the row of carriages toward the manor. From the breadth of his shoulders, his plain brown trousers and white shirt rolled to display his brawny forearms, and the easy way he hefted the valise onto his shoulder, he was undoubtedly a servant. I shook out my wrinkled, mint-green skirt as I stepped forward.
The man paused as he came abreast of me. By Jove, he must be taller even than I was. Not many men in England could boast that. He shook his head to banish the shoulder-length, blond hair from his eyes. Hair only a shade darker than mine.
As he turned his attention to me, I flicked my hand to indicate the coach. “You’ll need help with the trunk. Francine’s packed her books in there. When you bring my bags to my room, be careful with the valise with the red ribbon on the handle. The contents are fragile.”
The man’s eyebrows soared toward his forehead. His mouth twisted into a smirk. At least four feet of space separated us, but he closed that marginally as he leaned toward me. “You might want to be more careful who you invite into your room.”
Flabbergasted, my voice fled. I peered at the carriage door, but Mary didn’t magically appear to give him a scolding. What good was her notorious hatred of men if she didn’t ply it in my favor?
The stranger’s smirk spread to cover the lower half of his face. I drew myself up, trying to match his height. “I beg your pardon?”
“I doubt you’ve ever begged for anything in your life.”
Untrue. I’d begged my father for one more week to find a husband of my choice, a man I loved, before he arranged a marriage. He’d refused. If I didn’t find a husband at Lady Dunlop’s notorious Week of Love, I’d find myself tied for life to a man I didn’t know or love—or worse, a man I’d already found I couldn’t love.
I bit my tongue to keep from spouting the confession.