The thought of spending Christmas at Danby Castle with her matchmaking great-uncle filled Lady Tabitha Storm’s heart with dread. She would love a match, of course, with the handsome horseman she’d spied in Hyde Park throughout the last season. Unfortunately, she doesn’t even know the gentleman’s name. But settling for anyone else is the last thing she’d ever do.
Andrew Delaney, Viscount Straffan was determined to eat, drink and be merry surrounded by family and friends in Ireland, but when The Duke of Danby dangled the one thing he coveted among all others, he had no choice but to travel to Yorkshire for Christmas. Before Danby will agree to the deal, he required one final task. Thankfully, it involved the beauty he’d spied strolling in Hyde Park. Would Andrew gain more this holiday than he ever dreamed, or would his Irish heritage stand in his way?
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Chetwick Manor, Cheshire, England, December 10, 1817
What more could a gentleman want than fine Irish whiskey and a peaceful afternoon at his brother’s estate before he returned home to Ireland. Andrew Delaney, Viscount Straffan, hadn’t had the opportunity to simply relax in some time and this was exactly what he needed after this last year of racing and managing stables. Now all he need concern himself with were newssheets and a daily brisk ride across the countryside. In fact, it was his intention to enjoy Christmas in the festive company of parents and younger sisters, and if he were so lucky, enjoy warm caresses of an Irish widow.
Andrew was determined to eat, drink and be marry for after Twelfth Night he must returned to England once more.
“The post,” the butler announced as he carried a tray to his brother, Patrick who frowned, noting the address “Tis not for me, but for yerself.”
“Who the blazes would track me here?” Andrew had left his estate in Suffolk a fortnight ago to spend time with his brother and sister-in-law before traveling on to Ireland. “Who is it from?”
Patrick turned it over and noted the seal. “Danby.”
“I wonder what he wants.” Andrew’s relaxed almost meditative state evaporated at that one name and he got up and crossed to the sideboard to pour a bit more the whiskey into his glass.
“There is only one way to find out.” Patrick waved the letter in the air. “And pour me a glass too.”
Andrew frowned. “I can think of no reason why Danby would write me instead of Father.”
“So ye’re not goin’ ta read it?”
Andrew eyed the missive as he put a glass in front of Patrick. There was only one thing Andrew wanted from Danby. It was the same thing his father wanted, and their grandfather before he died, though Andrew didn’t expect to have it given to him in a letter, or ever.
After settling in the leather chair, he took a sip of the Bushmills and studied the missive. If he took it from Patrick then he’d need to read it.
Or, would he? There was nothing to keep him from just tossing into the hearth. Then he could go about his plans for a very merry holiday.
Except, curiosity was getting the best of him. Why had Danby written him?
“Give it here.” Andrew held out his hand.
Instead of handing it over, Patrick waved it again. “Are ye certain? Nothin’ good can come of a letter from Danby.”
“I cannot imagine anythin’ bad either.” As much as he tried, Andrew could think of no reason why the Duke of Danby would write to him.
“Ye’re a viscount and future marquess,” Patrick stated as if Andrew needed a reminder.
“I don’t see what my title has to do with anythin’.”
Patrick chuckled. “Have ye not been payin’ attention to what His Grace has been about these last years? He’s been makin’ matches for his relatives who haven’t wed in a timely manner.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with me.”
“Ye’re a bachelor, gettin’ rather long in the tooth. He has more than one great-niece who…” Patrick trailed off with a shrug.
“I’m only thirty, hardly long in the tooth and I cannot imagine that Danby would want to marry one of his relatives into our family after so many years of animosity.”
“Well, he wants somethin’.”
“If ye hand it over, we’d find out now, wouldn’t we?” Andrew grabbed the letter from his brother’s hand and broke the seal.
The Right Honorable Viscount Straffan,
It is my hope that my correspondence found you at your brother’s home before you had the opportunity to return to Ireland to celebrate Christmas.
How the blazes did Danby know that he’d be here?
As you know, your grandfather had been one of my closest friends since Eton and why I found myself purchasing a piece of land that neighbored your family’s estate so that I too could establish a stud farm with the fastest and best racers available.
Andrew sat forward and took a drink, afraid to be hopeful that they’d finally be able to purchase the stud farm. If so, then his Christmas would be the merriest indeed.
We were such idealistic lads and thought to take the racing world by storm. Your grandfather did well and you continue in his legacy. However, I have no desire to continue with the sport. Therefore, I am now willing to part with the land, stables and horses as they serve no purpose to me or my family. I cannot imagine any of my relatives wishing to live in Ireland even if I forced the issue, which I easily could, as you well know.
Finally, it would all be theirs!
All you need do is attend me at Danby Castle to negotiate the terms before I sign the deed over to you. Once you inherit you can join the land with that of your future marquessate.
If you do not arrive on or before December 21, this offer will be withdrawn.
I look forward to your spending Christmas at Danby Castle.
Andrew passed the letter to Patrick and settled back in his seat as he contemplated his options. There had to be a catch, but for the life of him, he could not see one, other than his Christmas holiday no longer seemed so very merry.
“I knew it.” Patrick slammed the palm of his hand on the table.
“Ye’re about to marry.”
Andrew took a drink and shook his head. “Danby said nothing about marriage.”
“He wouldn’t dangle the property in front of ye to get you to the castle for Christmas otherwise.”
Suspicion settled into Andrew’s gut. Why now when an agreement could be reached at any time? It wasn’t like Danby to embrace the Christmas spirit or any other pleasant emotion so His Grace definitely had additional plans that Andrew was not aware of.
However, Andrew was also quite certain that marriage was not a part of Danby’s plans. An English duke would never marry a relation to an Irish gentleman, even if he was in possession of a title and fortune.
So, what exactly did the Duke of Danby want from Andrew in return besides the obvious purchase price?
Danby Castle, December 21, 1817
“It’s not fair, I tell you,” Lady Tabitha Storm complained as speared the material with her needle, careful not to stab her finger in the process.
“So you’ve noted, several times since Hannah left,” her younger sister, Deborah grumbled without glancing up from her book.
Hannah, their older sister, had been sent to Barbados by their great-uncle, the Duke of Danby, to act as a traveling companion to the Dowager Marchioness of Whitley. Her sister was to only attend Lady Whitley on the ship, and then Hannah would be free to enjoy Barbados and Christmas with their older brothers, Samuel and Nathaniel, before having to return in February. While Hannah basked in the Caribbean sun, Tabitha was stuck in an ancient castle in Yorkshire.
“Why should Hannah have all the fun?”
“Because she is the oldest, unmarried sister?” Sarah, who happened to be the youngest answered from her perch beside the window. She’d been ordered to remain there by their mother and to note any and all arrivals to the castle so that they could be prepared for the unwanted guests. Actually, they were only unwanted by Tabitha’s mother since everyone had been invited by the Duke of Danby.
“I would have made an excellent companion,” Tabitha insisted. “And a ship going anywhere is far better than being stuck here.”
Deborah let out a sigh and closed her book. “Are you going to be so disagreeable during the entire holiday?”
“I’m not being disagreeable. I’m simply vexed.”
“And have been for the past two months,” Deborah grumbled.
“Hannah leaving isn’t what has you upset and you know it,” Sarah gently insisted.
“Oh, very well, but I don’t see why you aren’t concerned.” Each time an unrelated bachelor arrived for the Christmas holiday, Tabitha’s chances of being betrothed by the first of the year increased. The problem was, she’d already found her match, he just wasn’t aware she existed yet. But, Tabitha was determined to make his acquaintance in the coming spring, even if she had to brave the grand stead he rode to do so.
Just the idea filled her with anxiety since she’d much rather admire the fine Arabian from afar
“I’m not concerned,” Sarah shrugged. “I’m certain Danby hasn’t given me a second thought since I have three older sisters and brother who remain unattached. I’ll worry after the four of you are settled.”
Perhaps Sarah had a point, but as Hannah was not here, Tabitha was the next in line, if Danby was focusing on the oldest, unmarried female sibling, that is
Her stomach tightened and Tabitha truly hoped Danby’s focus was on their older brother Peter, and not herself.
“I am worried,” Deborah offered. “But there is no point in succumbing to hysterics since we don’t know if Danby has chosen anyone for us.”
“I’m not hysterical. I’m vexed. There is a difference,” Tabitha argued.
It wasn’t that any of them were opposed marriage, they simply wished to choose their own husbands, but between His Grace and their mother, Tabitha was afraid they wouldn’t be given the opportunity.
“There’s another one,” Sarah called from the window. “He is not a relative, but I have no idea who he is since I don’t recognize the crest on the carriage door.”
Of course Sarah wouldn’t recognize anyone as she’d yet to attend a Season. Her first would be this spring. Unless, of course, Danby married her off before Twelfth Night.
Tabitha set her sewing aside and walked toward the large window that looked down onto the drive.
Deborah joined them, though she still clutched her book “Just because it’s a closed carriage does not mean it contains a bachelor.”
“That is true,” Sarah agreed. “Our great uncle does have some male relatives he’d wish to see married, so it could possibly be a female.”
As the carriage door was opened by a footman, the three groaned when the leg of a man appeared and not the skirt of a lady.
However, a moment later Tabitha sucked in a breath as he exited and glanced up at the castle. It was him.
Tabitha leaned closer to the window to get a better look just to be certain, but the man’s auburn hair could only belong to him.
Goodness, he was a handsome man from his high cheekbones, rugged jaw and sculpted nose. Not only that, but he was well-formed with his shoulders and arms filling out his coat, but his trousers did little to mask the strength of his thighs.
“Is something the matter?” Deborah asked anxiously.
“No, everything is now perfect.”
“You gasped as if you’re alarmed.”
Not alarmed but thrilled. This was the first time she’d ever seen him outside of Hyde Park. Perhaps now she’d learn his name and gain an introduction. Maybe they’d even share a waltz at the annual Yule Ball on Christmas Eve.
“Tabitha, what is the matter with you?” Sarah demanded. “A moment ago you were vexed and wishing to be away from here and now, by the look of elation on your face, you are quite pleased with your circumstances.”
“I am.” She sighed.
“Do you know him?” Deborah asked.
“No.” But she couldn’t wait to finally make his acquaintance.
Ever since Tabitha noted him at the beginning of April, she’d insisted that her maid accompany her on a walk through Hyde Park and near Rotten Row before they began the day in hopes of catching a glimpse of him ride by. She’d also spent a good part of the Season looking for him at every ball, picnic, theatre, and all manner of entertainments, but he never once appeared at any Societal event. At least, none of the ones she’d attended, anyway.
At times she’d almost convinced herself that he was a product of her imagination, or perhaps a ghost because a week after she’d first spied him, he disappeared for a fortnight, only to return, ride then disappear again only to make his return again.
And now, here he was, at Danby Castle.
“Who is he?” Sarah asked.
“I’ve no idea. But, I do intend to marry him.”
“You will do no such thing.” At that, their mother yanked the curtains closed.
Goodness, where had she come from?
“That is Viscount Straffan, heir to the St. Mullins marquessate. He currently resides in Suffolk. However, and so much worse is that his family seat is in County Wicklow, Ireland.”
Her sisters gasped at the news, but Tabitha was not the least bit put off. “Ireland?” she asked.
“Yes. Ireland.” She shook her folded fan in Tabitha’s face. “You, young lady, will not go near him, do you understand me?”
Tabitha swallowed then nodded. “Yes, Mother.”
It was no secret that their mother refused to entertain the suit of any gentleman who did not reside within a day’s carriage ride of their home and it had been quite irritating, if not embarrassing in London. Why, she nearly humiliated Hannah to death when she yanked her dance card from the Earl of Stalter, refusing the dance all on account of the location of his estate.
Well, just because Hannah couldn’t go near Lord Straffan, didn’t mean he couldn’t come near her. Now, how to gain his notice became Tabitha’s most pressing concern.
Andrew exited the carriage, thankful to have arrived after five days on the road. At least he met the deadline set by His Grace. Now to meet with him and come to an agreement, then Andrew could be on his way. With any luck, he’d be able to return to Cheshire and Chetwick Manor in time to enjoy Christmas with Patrick and Laura since he was being denied the company of the remainder of his family this year.
He took a deep breath, straightened his spine and marched to the main entrance. Before he could knock, the door was opened by a stern butler.
“Viscount Straffan to see the Duke of Danby.”
The man gave a slight bow of his head and stepped back. “Welcome to Danby Castle, Lord Straffan. We’ve been expecting you. I’ll have a maid take your belongings to your chamber.”
“I’d hoped not to remain so long.” He wanted to attend to his business then be gone.
“I’m certain you will remain the night,” the butler assured Andrew.
“Please tell His Grace that I’ve arrived.” Andrew refused to be sent to a bedchamber like a child. Danby had told him to be here this day, and now they would meet.
“One moment.” The footman executed another bow then disappeared up the stairs, leaving Andrew to cool his heels.
When he’d arrived, there was chatter coming from inside the sitting room. The ladies had gone silent and he glanced over to find them staring at him with curiosity. They were probably sizing him up since Danby did have a reputation for using the holidays to secure betrothals and marriages. Once the misses realized who he was, they’d lose all interest and focus on an English, bachelor guest.
The butler returned a moment later. “His Grace is occupied at the moment and asked that I see you to your chambers.”
“When will His Grace be unoccupied?” Andrew demanded.
“That is not for me to say, Lord Straffan. His Grace keeps his own schedule.”
Andrew blew out a sigh and followed the butler up the stairs determined to find a way to fit into Danby’s schedule before the day was out.
A VERY MERRY VISCOUNT is the 4th book in the SPIRITED STORMS series and can be found at the following retailers: