Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride

By: Christi Caldwell

Dedications



To my two baby girls: I can’t wait to meet you! You have already shown the tremendous strength and power that all great heroines should possess.



To all my friends fighting for their happily ever after. Thank you for being with me on a very long journey. This is going to be your year.





Acknowledgements



Tremendous thanks to my amazing critique partners who took me under their wings years ago. You have been my cheerleaders not only in my writing pursuits, but also in life. A special thanks to Aileen Fish and Samantha Grace. None of this could have happened without your support.





Chapter 1

1817

London, England



Dearest Lord Drake,

Though you have never directly addressed me by name, I have decided I am far too old to be called Em. I ask you to instead call me Emmaline...that is, if you ever call upon me.

Ever Yours,

Emmaline

Two elegant phaetons barreled along Oxford Street, bearing down on an old woman peddling her goods. The merchant paled and tried to shove her cart up on the pavement. It tipped, swayed, and then careened into the street. The two men in the phaeton pulled sharp on the reins and pitched forward in their seats. Nearby, a passing gentleman pushed the lady on his arm away from certain calamity.

A vulgar shout and frightened screams split the cacophony of mundane street sounds.

Lady Emmaline Rose Fitzhugh paused on the pavement and raised a hand to shield her eyes against the sun’s brightness. She frowned.

Lord Whitmore and Lord Cavenleigh. Two of Society’s most dandified fops.

Lord Whitmore tugged hard at the reigns and leapt from the still moving conveyance. “You filthy cow!” He raged at the poor woman in the street.

Lord Cavenleigh, jumped down from his carriage and muttered a string of curses.

Emmaline’s skin heated at the rather descriptive obscenities they unleashed on the woman. Having an older brother, she’d heard her fair share of inappropriate words, but Cavenleigh’s litany was rather original even on that score.

As the street erupted with the panicked cries of young ladies, the peddler bowed her head. Stringy gray hair straggled into her eyes. “Oi’m sorry, m-my lord.”

Cavenleigh kicked a tomato at the old woman, and smattered her skirts with the ripened fruit.

Emmaline gasped.

Her maid, Grace, took her by the arm and attempted to steer her away. “Please, come away, my lady.”

Emmaline ignored her efforts and rushed into the fray. “Cease, immediately.” She stepped into the street just as the assailant launched another tomato at the peddler.

The projectile missed its intended mark and splattered onto the embroidered lace edging of Emmaline’s ivory silk skirts.

Hands squared on her hips, she glared at the two men. “How dare you?”

Whitmore, with his slickly oiled and very deliberately curled red hair, stepped around Emmaline to launch a barrage of insults at the quaking woman. He brandished his riding crop. “Sorry? You’re sorry? We could have been killed and for what? Your meaningless life and rotten vegetables?”

Emmaline threw herself in front of the aged peddler. “What manner of gentlemen would torment a defenseless woman?”

“No, my lady,” Grace cried.

A tall figure stepped into the fray and positioned himself between Grace and the two assailants. Society knew the gentleman as the Marquess of Drake.

Emmaline knew him as her betrothed.

Lord Drake wrenched the whip from the cad’s fingers, cracked the instrument in half, and tossed the two pieces aside.

Emmaline swallowed hard. Lord Drake stood more than a head taller than her and possessed the kind of hardened masculine perfection Michelangelo would have ached to memorialize in stone. The harsh angles of his face bespoke power and commanded notice. With rugged cheeks, aquiline nose, and squared jaw, he conveyed raw vitality. The hint of a curl to his unfashionably long golden hair seemed suited to this real life David.

“You clearly have very little value for your life,” Drake said to the two fops who’d moments ago tormented the poor old woman.

Emmaline’s stare collided with Drake’s emerald eyes. The green irises pierced through her with heated intensity; robbed her of breath.

Get a hold of yourself, Em. He is just a man. A gloriously, stunning man—but that was neither here nor there.

She looked toward Whitmore and Cavenleigh. Cavenleigh had the good sense to stagger backwards and scurry from the incident like a rodent discovered by Cook in the kitchens.

Lord Drake returned his focus to the red-haired assailant who’d wielded the weapon. He grabbed him by the wrist and applied such pressure, the man gasped.

A hiss of pain whistled past Whitmore’s lips. “For the love of God, man…” Whitmore pleaded.

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