Left orphaned and penniless as a young child, Lucy Jones learned to curb her temper, her passions, and even her sense of humor to placate the wealthy relatives who took her in. She became the perfect poor relation—meek, quiet, and self-effacing. She clings to her self-control because she can control nothing else.
James Wright-Gordon also lost his parents at a young age. But he became a wealthy viscount at fifteen and stepped into full control of his fortune and his birthright as a parliamentary power broker at twenty-one. At twenty-four, he is serenely confident in his ability to control everything in the world that matters to him.
At a house party in the summer of 1809, James quickly discerns Lucy’s carefully hidden spirit and wit and does his best to draw them out. After being caught in a compromising situation, they are obliged to marry. But can two people whose need for control has always been absolute learn to put love first?
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James glanced about to make sure no one was looking, then slipped outside after Miss Jones. Lousy Lucy from the workhouse? What the devil?
She wasn’t hard to find. She had collapsed onto the nearest stone bench and was weeping silently. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket, extended it toward her and cleared his throat. “Miss Jones?”
She started and looked up at him, rubbing her eyes. “L-Lord Selsley.” She swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “You heard that, didn’t you?”
He pushed the handkerchief into her hands and sat beside her. “I did.”
She looked at him, then away. “It’s true.”
“What do you mean?” He tried to imagine the girl sitting beside him—pretty and accomplished, with the accent and manner of a gentlewoman—anywhere near a workhouse, and failed utterly.
“Portia—Miss Arrington—was telling the truth. I came to Swallowfield from a workhouse in London. With a head full of lice.”
“But you’re her cousin,” he said. He had no doubt that it was true, that Miss Jones was no mere foundling taken in on some charitable whim. Despite her differences in size and coloring, she resembled her cousins quite strongly in her features.
“Yes. Our mothers were sisters,” she said, twisting the handkerchief in her hand.
“My grandfather was a squire,” she said, “of good family, but not grand, and of no great fortune. But you’ve seen my aunt. She married a baronet, and because my mother was even more beautiful, everyone said she would marry a lord.”
“I gather she did not,” he said.
“Indeed. When she was seventeen, she went to London for her Season—and promptly fell in love with a clerk she met at a circulating library.”
“Yes. He was quite romantic and full of dreams for how he would make his fortune someday. He and my mother eloped and of course her family disowned her. I was born less than a year later, with another new baby almost every year after that.”
“You mentioned two brothers…”
“Ah. I see.”
“Father never came close to making his fortune. On the contrary, even as a child I could tell we were poorer every year. The winter I turned nine, we all sickened with typhus. Only Owen, Rhys and I survived.”
She narrated the tragedy of her life in the flat, emotionless tone of one who does not ask for or expect comfort. All the same, James wanted to put his arms around her, as if he could protect her from her past.
“Hence the workhouse,” he said gently.
“Yes. My mother had had no contact with her family since she eloped, and Father’s family, if he had any living, were poor and far away in Wales. So when they died, the parish authorities sent us to the workhouse.”
He shuddered at the image her words generated. “How did your mother’s people find you?”
“That was my doing. The year before they died, Mother had turned bitter, and she talked to me about her family. Before, I hadn’t known. But when they took us to the workhouse I knew I had an aunt in Essex, and that she was married to a baronet named Sir Henry Arrington. And I thought, if only I write to them, maybe they will help us. I had to do something. Rhys was only three, and I was afraid that place would kill him.”
“It’s not as though you and your other brother were grown!”
She shrugged. “We were older. We could look after ourselves.”
“So you wrote your uncle, and he rescued you?”
She gave a short, wry laugh. “It wasn’t quite as simple as that. First I told the director of the workhouse that our uncle was a baronet, and he must send for him to come and get us.”
“But he did not?”
“Of course not! He laughed, then had me whipped for telling lies.”
“Good God.” James had a sudden urge to ask her which workhouse it was so he could find out if the director was the same man as a decade or so previously, and have him shamed and sacked if that was the case.
Miss Jones sighed. “Well, I’m sure it did sound fantastical. Orphaned London urchins without a penny to their names, the niece and nephews of a baronet? Why should anyone have believed it? So I knew I would have to write him myself. But it took me six weeks. I had to make a friend of one of the cooks and persuade her to get me pen and paper and to post the letter for me once it was done. Then my uncle came for us. We were there two months, all told.”
“That was bravely done of you.” He had thought from the moment he met her that there was more to Miss Jones than met the eye, and now he was sure of it. She had shown courage and determination in rescuing herself and her brothers from a dreadful situation, and he was sure that same strength of character still lurked beneath her meek exterior.
“I had to take care of my brothers. Anyone would’ve done the same.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”