Hi everyone, I have been meaning to try and write a historical romance for ages, so here is my first attempt! I'm sorry if I didn't get the language correct. But I'm learning as I go, so do bear with me and forgive me for the mistakes!
Thank you especially to raffinit who has been super in her encouragement. Please check out her fics if you haven't done so already.
Disclaimer: I own none of the recognisable characters and no infringement is intended.
"Hotch, Reid and I have come to a decision. It is high time that you were married."
Aaron Hotchner, the Duke of Trent, frowned at his brother as the scotch he had just drunk burned a fiery path down his throat. The declaration was probably supposed to sound majestic, but since his brother was well in his cups, all it did was sound majestically ridiculous. He raised an eyebrow at his sibling. "The notion that you have been thinking is a terrifying proposition at the best of times, but the notion that you have been thinking about my nuptial state is beyond imagining." He turned to his friend. "As for you, Dr Reid, I'm surprised that you would waste your valuable time pondering on my personal affairs. Shouldn't you be spending your time searching for a cure for cholera or some such disease?"
Reid was more than familiar with jibes such as these. Being especially bright, he had attended Eton at the same time as Aaron, despite being six years younger. He also knew that Hotch was merely teasing, having been taken under the older man's wing when he had come upon a scene where Reid was being tormented by his older classmates. "I have more than enough time during the daylight hours for those pursuits. No, I agree with Sean. It is time you remarried, Hotch." His face softened. "Haley has been dead for five years."
As always, the thought of his wife brought equal amounts of anger and regret. Not for the first time, he wished he had adhered to his original inclination not to attend the Marchioness of Kent's annual ball. Then he would never have met the woman who had so enchanted and blinded him that even five years later, he was still unable to understand how it was that he had not suspected her true character. Love really was blind, he thought bitterly. "I do not intend to marry again." His tone made it clear that this pronouncement was final.
Sean leaned forward and poured another measure of brandy into his glass. "And what about your duty to produce an heir?"
"I feel no such duty, Sean. I plan to bestow upon you the joy of inheriting this duchy upon my passing."
"Oh no, no, no!" His brother's answer was emphatic. "There is no damn way I'm inheriting this duchy, dear brother. I will run off to the Continent even as you lie on your death bed. And then what would happen to all your beloved tenants? If you care for their well-being, you would do well and produce an heir. Including a couple of spares."
"Much as I hate to agree with your brother, Hotch..."
"Hear! Hear!" called out Sean drunkenly. Both men ignored him.
"I really don't think he is someone who would be mentally or emotionally capable of such responsibility. And besides, he will more than likely drink your vast fortune in the space of five years."
"I beg your p..pardon!" interjected the subject in question. Hotch grimaced, unable to disagree with his friend.
Reid went on. "Fortunately for you, Sean has been in constant attendance over the last fortnight at various balls and has also been gathering information at White's. Between the both of us, we have come up with a list of women we think will be suitable for you."
"Reid." Hotch put his snifter down carefully, trying to hold back his annoyance. "I never suspected you to be hard of hearing. I believed I informed you that I do not wish to be married again. And even if I do, which I most certainly do not, you appear to have forgotten about the circumstances surrounding Haley's death. No marriage-minded Mama at their most desperate would dare expose her daughter to the Dark Duke with his wife's blood on his hands. She would be more likely to sacrifice her innocent lamb on an altar to pagan gods."
Reid raised his eyebrows. "It is very unlike you to be dramatic, Hotch. First, what happened to Haley was a long time ago. Trust me, there have been many more scandals since that time. Why, just last week Lady Arrow was discovered in flagrante delicto with her gardener in the conservatory. Apparently it has been going on for years. There are now doubts as to the paternity of her and the Viscount's two children."
Hotch sighed. "Reid, you are sounding dangerously like a gossiping female at one of those tedious balls."
His friend blinked owlishly, the dancing firelight creating shadows on his face. "I beg your pardon, I appear to have digressed. Second, you are blessed with qualities that are currently unmatchable as a male candidate on the marriage mart."
"Oh? Enlighten me, please." Hotch's tone was dry as he took a further sip of his scotch.
Reid looked thoughtful as he listed Hotch's attributes. "Well, you are a duke, the highest peer in the realm. At 33, you are in your prime, have a reasonably intelligent mind and objectively speaking, I can see that you have a fine manly form. But the one thing which will tip the scales is that you, my friend, are richer than Croesus and God combined."
It took more than a moment before Hotch could reply, having swallowed his scotch the wrong way when Reid had commented on his 'fine manly form'. His friend looked on with concern as he coughed violently. "For God's sake, Reid! If you ever say the phrase fine manly form again, I will have to knock your teeth down your throat," threatened Hotch in a hoarse voice when he finally recovered.
"My fervent apologies," said Reid, looking and sounding completely unapologetic. He glanced over at Sean, who by this stage, had fallen asleep on the leather armchair and was snoring loudly. "And third, our list does not include the young ladies who are just coming out this season. We agree that you will most assuredly scare the poor little innocents with your ahem, manly desires."
"Reid..." Hotch said threateningly. He could cut off the direction of this conversation any time he chose to, but he had to admit to being somewhat curious. He had only started to attend a select number of functions a year ago, and that could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Most of his information came from Sean, whose recollection and opinions were unreliable at the best of times and from Reid, who wasn't really what one would label a social butterfly. More the opposite.
"All right, we came up with four. The first is the Countess Rathbourne, she – "
"I have as much manly desires as the next fellow, Reid, but even I would most likely expire from her attentions, which I hear was the cause of the earl's death."
"Hotch, that is most likely untrue. I don't believe it is possible to expire from sexual exhaustion. And she is a very attractive woman."
"I really don't wish to test out that theory. And I do not require beauty in a wife, as long as she is passable I will consider her. I need not bed her with the lights on." Hotch was nothing if not practical.
Reid shook his head. "I am a man of science, and yet the extent of your romantic nature astounds even me."
The cynical duke didn't deign to acknowledge that statement. "Next."
"The Marchioness of Lyndsey is sponsoring a young woman from the Americas whom I understand is well-bred and well-spoken. However, she is the daughter of merchant. And I hear tell that her father is almost as rich as you."
"Thank you, but no. As you say, I have more money than Croesus and God combined. And the woman who is to be my wife needs to be well-versed with social conventions and responsibilities that come with that position. I do not have the time nor the inclination to tutor her."
Reid looked like he was about to disagree, but then changed his mind. "Next is Lady Anne, the daughter of the Earl of Derby. She is 20, is fair of skin and softly spoken. I think you stand a good chance of obtaining her hand in marriage, Hotch."
"Would that be because the Earl is so deep in debt that he would sell his daughter to the highest bidder?" Hotch had heard about the earl's uncontrollable gaming addiction. "I will most likely have to part with a significant portion of my fortune to have her as my wife."
"What does that matter to you? You will recoup that in no time," said Reid dismissively.
Hotch suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. Reid seemed to think that money could reproduce like rabbits. "I'll keep her in mind. Who is the final candidate on the list?"
"The last person we have is Lady Emily, the daughter of the Duke of Albury. Please do not dismiss her before you hear me out." Obviously he had seen Hotch open his mouth.
"Fine." Even being out of the loop, so to speak, Hotch had heard about the duke's wayward daughter.
"Lady Emily, as you probably know, is not in her first blush of youth. She is five and twenty, so she will most likely not be an innocent in the ways of the world. That is not to say she is not a virgin, but one would presume that she would know more about life than the average chit just out of the schoolroom. She is reportedly a blue-stocking, almost as educated as you and I. I understand the duke is of the belief that women should not be disadvantaged in this arena. Interestingly, she can also ride and shoot as well as the next man."
"In other words, she is a man in woman's clothing. She sounds perfect, Reid." Hotch knew he sounded sarcastic, but he was unable to help himself. Reid was expounding this woman's attributes in a manner that was a trifle too enthusiastic. He had to admit that if he hadn't been aware of her particular history, he would likely have been intrigued. There was nothing he hated more than simpering, empty-headed young debutantes who could do nothing but talk about the current fashion or gossip. "Except for one thing which has roused my curiosity to no end. How do you propose to persuade her to accept my offer of marriage?" Lady Emily had reportedly turned down at least six offers in the last seven years. The description given by Reid had explained away most of this extraordinary phenomenon. She was a duke's daughter, a duke whose wealth equalled Hotch's, and as a consequence would have received offers on these facts alone. However, it seemed the duke had overly indulged his daughter to the extent that she was clearly deluded into thinking she could do what she wished. And that included breaking the hearts of her suitors.
"I hear tell that Albury is extremely keen to have her married off. So if the suitor were to impress him, I would say that the deal is done."
"Oh, really? What would be Albury's plan if she were to refuse. Truss her up like a Christmas goose and deposit her at the feet of the bishop when it comes time for us to tie the knot?"
"Hotch, I'm not asking you to marry her tomorrow. Just meet her first, then decide. She is more than passable looking and at least you'll know where you stand after the meeting. Apparently Lady Emily Prentiss is not afraid to speak her mind. You'll both get on famously." Reid smiled in delight.
"No doubt you've somehow managed to finagle an invitation for me at the same affair?" Hotch asked dryly. He was in London for the season. He supposed he could attend a few gatherings. He didn't much care about the reception he would get. Or what his peers thought of him. He needed to please no one except himself.
"Yes. The Earl and Countess of Newcastle is hosting a masked ball in three days' time. Lady Emily will be attending with her family. Make sure you have the proper attire, Hotch. First impressions are the only ones that count. Tell me you will give her a chance."
Hotch gave a negligent shrug as he drained the last of his scotch. "Why the hell not? I have nothing better to do." He would never admit it, but the thought of meeting the woman who had the audacity to turn down marriage offer after marriage offer with not a care of what society thought of her filled his jaded self with anticipation. Although it would take an extroadinary woman to change his mind about marriage. An extraordinary woman indeed.
What did you think? Let me know if you enjoyed that as I am REALLY curious. I won't be updating this very quickly as my main focus is "Problem" but I will try to update as soon as my muse allows me to. But please send me a review!