By all accounts, Lady Veronica Pebblesworth should be furious with her father. After all, he did just inform her to find a husband or be betrothed to the very ambitious—albeit wickedly handsome—hotel owner, Daniel Crane. What the breathtaking devil does not know, however, is that Veronica has already developed an elaborate plan to rid herself of his marriage minded intent.
But as Veronica uses her tricks to remove Mr. Crane from her life, it’s hard to remember the reason she wished to do so in the first place. Maybe it’s his devilish smile, or the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her… but somehow Veronica’s thoughts has taken a different direction entirely!
The only question is, how far will they both go to ensure their happy ever after.
It was the belief of Lady Veronica Pebblesworth that a great many things could be accomplished if one only put one’s mind to it. And if there was one thing Lady Veronica Pebblesworth was known for, it was accomplishing a great many things.
At the age of three, Veronica demanded her father gift her with a violin.
At the age of eight, Veronica had mastered the instrument, as well as the piano.
At the age of ten, she began tutoring the servants, who wholly indulged and doted upon her, on mannerism and speech and stopped only once she’d been satisfied she had accomplished the task to her liking.
By thirteen, she already spoke four languages and, having accomplished much of everything—from the tedious task of embroidery to the much more vigorous art of horse riding—Lady Veronica became, quite understandably so, bored. Thus her attention advanced to more romantic matters.READ MORE
But that too would soon prove to be naught but foolishness on her part as, at sixteen, Veronica discovered the truth about boys when her heart was stolen and promptly broken by her one true childhood love who she caught kissing Alice Martingale in the stables.
It came as no surprise that by eighteen Veronica had developed into a fine young lady and was, well, a force to be reckoned with, having gained the respect and hearts of all who knew her.
Forgoing the age-old tradition of securing a husband, she instead focused all of her will power on bettering the lives of those in need. Men after all, as Veronica had learned, remained creatures of instinct which existed to appease their most basic of urges, whereas women possessed the fine quality of intellect. How men managed to fool the entire world into believing them superior remained quite frankly beyond her. And five years of living a gloriously unattached life had only strengthened Veronica’s opinion.
It was why when her father calmly notified her that he would betroth her to Daniel Crane in a fortnight if she did not procure the hand of a gentleman of her own choosing, Lady Veronica Pebblesworth only smiled.
Yes, much could be accomplished if one only put one’s mind to it and today Lady Veronica gathered all her forces with the sole intention of running off Daniel Crane.
Her nose wrinkled in the corners as she studied the tea-stained list she’d penned for that exact purpose.
How to ensure Daniel Crane scurries for the hills
- Encourage him to decline her father’s offer.
- Develop an ear cringing giggle.
- Develop bad table manners.
- Work up a fine stink.
- Be exceptionally rude.
- Mention his earnings in conversation.
- Threaten to burn his hotel to the ground.
- If all else fails—hire thugs to kidnap him and hold him hostage until she married another.
A tremendously long list it was not, but it should be sufficient for her cause. No gentleman worth his salt desired a harpy for a wife.
Clearing her throat, she stepped onto the stool that her footman provided for her and flicked her gaze over her audience before addressing them with a steady voice, “My dear friends, I have called upon you today to discuss a dreadful matter which has befallen me.”
An eruption of worried exclamations and concerned eyes darted around to glance at each other before settling back on her.
Veronica’s eyes glided over her friends with affection. She had never minded that the girls and boys of her age thought her an oddity. More outspoken and livelier, she’d always known she was different, more accomplished. Her view of the world did not lack the vibrancy absent in most of the children she’d grown up with.
She also did not mind that her dearest friends consisted of their resident cook, stable boy, butler, two maids, one footman and her Irish wolfhound, Fox.
“Oh dear,” Cook chimed, fanning her face with a cloth. “Tell me you’re not dead, child?”
Veronica’s eyes softened. “Dying, Mrs. Dapper, and no, I’m not dying.”
“Are you leaving Waverly Manor?” the butler asked, his brows creasing into a frown.
“Not in a manner of speaking,” Veronica commented.
“Has your father taken ill?” her maid asked with dismay.
Veronica shook her head. “No Mary, I daresay he will outlive us all,” she remarked, her voice laced with sarcasm.
“Then what can it be?” Maddy, the scullery maid, asked.
Veronica straightened and her eyes took on a familiar stubborn glint. “I fear it be a fate much worse than all of that. My father has informed me that I have one fortnight to find a match of my own choosing or I am to be married off to Mr. Daniel Crane, the hotel owner.”
Her declaration hovered in the air like a magic trick waiting to be revealed. It was clear from the faces of her friends that they did not wish for this to happen. The cook sputtered, the butler’s face turned purple and the scullery maid stomped her foot in indignation. Many hands covered their mouths. All of their expressions seemed to indicate the horror of the fate her father had decided to inflict on her.
Charles, the butler, recovered and looking as imperial as ever, broke the shocked silence, “You are a lady of fine means, surely his lordship cannot mean to marry you to an uncouth businessman?”
“He does not deserve a fine lady such as yourself,” Jack, the stable boy, declared with outrage.
Veronica nodded her agreement. “Mr. Crane is rumored to be setting up a hotel in Ireland. I am to be whisked away to another country all together!”
Her statement caused another uproar of loud exclamations and fiery denials. Their disapproval served to fuel Veronica’s determination and sealed the fate of Daniel Crane. He would not gain her hand in marriage.
Her lips widened.
“He can’t mean to take you away!”
“You belong at Waverly Manor!”
Veronica gave a curt nod—her sentiments exactly. How absurd to expect her to pack up and leave the life she’d built. More absurd even was the prospect of calling Ireland her home, whether only for few years or not. All on the whim of a man. Veronica desired stability and routine; she thrived on it.
“He’s a hotel owner.”
Veronica waved Cook’s comment aside. “His station is of no importance.” At the moment. “Daniel Crane is reported to be an obnoxious old goat that has lain with almost every woman in England. As you are all aware, I’ve no intention of wedding a dolt, certainly not one the likes of him.”
Her friends nodded their agreement at her assessment of the infamous Mr. Crane. The furious bobbing of their heads reminded Veronica of wooden dolls attached to string, but she remained ever grateful for their loyal support nonetheless.
“I hardly believe that to be a fair assessment, my lady, since you have never met me,” a dark voice interrupted from a now ajar door.
Heads swiveled and Veronica nearly leapt from the stool, but managed to remain as composed as a marble statue to his probing eyes. Her heart, however, beat at an alarming pace and she took a moment to catch her breath.
She’d seen a portrait of Daniel Crane, but now believed it to have been of his father or perhaps uncle, not this Greek god who towered before her. Tall, about six foot two in Veronica’s estimation, he boasted broad shoulders and a solid chest. His hair, the color of blazing fire, bespoke of a fiery temper and even from across the room Veronica could tell his eyes gleamed a vibrant shade of green. The freckles across the bridge of his nose and upper cheeks softened the hard lines of his jaw and afforded him a younger, boyish look. But for all his striking appearance, Veronica sensed this was not a man to be trifled with. No indeed, he may just be a force to be reckoned with. No matter. Her mind would not change.
Her eyes darted to her father who appeared by his side, regarding her entourage with a narrowed gaze. A fair amount shorter than the mountain hulking beside him, he was not less intimidating.
Veronica’s mouth twitched. She happened to be a master at mastering intimidating men.
“It would seem, Waverly, that we found the culprit who appropriated your servants,” Crane drawled, his eyes dancing.
At the amusement in his voice Veronica flushed. “Appropriate is hardly the correct term, not to mention eavesdropping never did look good on a man.”
Crane rewarded her with a crooked smile.
“Veronica!” Her father boomed. “Show some manners, girl. Mr. Crane is a guest in our home.”
“Ah yes, the infamous hotel owner—Mr. Crane. My apologies sir, it is of course a pleasure to meet the man my father has commanded I marry if I cannot find a more suitable match in a fortnight.”
His smile faltered.
Her father sputtered as his brows drew together.
Veronica did not bat an eye.
“Be that as it may,” she continued with a wave toward the wide eyed servants, “I am merely informing the household that I may not be here for much longer but that they needn’t worry, there will always be a place for them in my home, wherever that may be.”
“What are you going on about?” her father asked, somewhat at a loss.
“Why if I marry, as you are forcing me to do.”
His eyes narrowed even more. “You are taking my cook with you?”
Veronica tilted her head with a small smile. “I am taking them all.”
“You will not!” he exclaimed, and then paused, fighting for composure. With a loud clear of his throat, he said in a more composed voice, “What I mean to say is, that is a matter for your husband to decide.”
“It will be the terms of negotiation with my future husband, yes,” she raked a superior glance over Mr. Crane, “whoever he may be, or you will just as soon wake one morning to find me married to the butcher.”
The low ringing sound of laughter burst from Crane. “You said she was an odd one, Waverly, you never said she possessed a flair for comedy.”
Comedy? For the first time in her life, Veronica found herself utterly speechless. How dare he laugh at her!
In a practiced art she allowed her lips to curl in disapproval and her eyes to glare daggers at the red-headed Adonis. She exuded loathing and distaste, but on the outside remained remarkably calm and impressively unreadable. It was perhaps why, Veronica mused as she saw the laughter reflected in his eyes perish, people thought her cold as ice. She possessed the uncanny ability to appear completely unaffected, even while her insides raged with emotions.
Prepare yourself Mr. Crane, for you are about to draw your blade on an expert swordswoman.
Crane’s eyes narrowed on the little viper’s calm air. He would be damned if he let her get to him with her saucy tongue and icy demeanor. Not one ounce of emotion broke through her veneer of stoic expression. But he wasn’t fooled. Great passion lay beneath her mask. He sensed it. Felt it even, as if it were radiating from her in waves of suppressed desires.
He’d heard people call her a curious creature, an oddity that preferred servants for company to that of others. It had also been said that she was a cold fish. Daniel did not care for rumors.
His heart hammered in his chest as he envisioned plucking the pins from her hair. He imagined glorious shades of chestnut tangled in his fingers as she moaned into his mouth.
A whisper of a long ago memory echoed off the walls of his mind. Yellow morning dress, white daisies. Lyrical laughter that lured him closer. Not a hint of recognition flared in her gaze as she stared at him in dispassion. Not even a morsel of uncertainty. Over the years he had caught glimpses of her in the village where he’d set up his first inn and from what he could tell, she displayed no regard to the divide between rich and poor. She welcomed the opportunity to assist a person beneath her notice, exhibiting no care for the chasm in stations.
Reports of her beauty did not do her justice either. She was a bit too short, like a child, yet her womanly curves molded into an exquisiteness that removed any doubt of her being a young hatchling. Delicate brows framed intelligent, catlike eyes.
He’d wanted her from the moment he’d spied her in her yellow dress, daisies sticking out from her hair. Yet he was no lord and, at the time, possessed no means to support such a beautiful creature the way she deserved.
So he had worked. And slaved. And worked harder still. Until he’d built an empire so vast and wide no one dared look down on him.
Now, Lady Veronica was finally within his means and grasp. Her lack of suitors presented him with the perfect opportunity to stake his claim and Daniel preferred a woman with spirit. Lady Veronica Pebblesworth bore an abundance of spirit.
Yet she stood before him, almost eye to eye on that stool of hers, looking at him with such disdain and superiority, it set his teeth on edge.
She had no knowledge of who she challenged with her battle ready stance. Had no notion of what he’d endured to possess her. His eyes narrowed on her small, stiff form. Lady Veronica fancied a battle? He’d damn well give her a war.COLLAPSE