That Perfect Someone Page 2

I"m sorry!”

Julia managed a smile. “Don"t be. You know you don"t have to tiptoe around that distasteful subject with me. We were just laughing about it. Being that we hate each other, that fool I"m engaged to couldn"t have done a nicer service for me than to fly the coop as he did.”

“You felt that way before you reached the age to marry, but that was three years ago. You can"t deny that being called an old maid doesn"t infuriate you.” Julia burst out laughing. “Is that what you think? You forget I"m not an aristocrat like you, Carol. Labels like that are meaningless to me. What I find meaningful is having no one to answer to but myself. You can"t imagine how wonderful that is. And it"s official. The family wealth and holdings are all mine now—unless that bounder comes home.”

Chapter Two

JULIA GASPED WHEN SHE saw Carol"s horrified reaction to her thoughtless remark. “I didn"t mean that! I told you my father"s condition is the same.”

“Then how can all his wealth and businesses be yours, without him—passing on?” Carol asked delicately.

“Because on one of his rare lucid days a few months ago, he summoned his solicitors and bankers to the house and turned over control of everything to me. Not that I hadn"t already been in control since the accident, but the solicitors won"t be peering over my shoulders anymore. They can still try to guide me, but I no longer have to listen to them. What Father did that day was give me my full inheritance sooner than I wanted it.” The solicitors couldn"t break her marriage contract, though, but then she"d already known that. Her father had tried unsuccessfully to break it years ago when it had become apparent that her fiancé had disappeared. The contract could only be terminated by mutual agreement between the two parents who had originally signed it, and the Earl of Manford, that awful man, wouldn"t agree to end it. He still had hopes of getting his hands on the Miller wealth—through her. That had been his plan all along and was why he"d come to her parents not long after she was born with his marriage proposal for their children. Helene had been so thrilled that they would have a lord in the family and wanted to seize the opportunity to wed her daughter to a member of the nobility. Gerald, who was less enthralled with the aristocracy, had agreed to the betrothal to please his wife. It could have led to a happy ending for all—if the engaged pair hadn"t hated each other.

“I can see how you might be enjoying that sort of freedom, but does it also mean you"ve resigned yourself to never marrying or having children?” Carol asked carefully.

Trust her friend to think of children when she was trying so hard to have one of her own.

“No, not at all. I want children,” Julia said. “I realized that when you first mentioned you and Harry were going to try to have one. And eventually I will marry.”

“How?” Carol asked in surprise. “I thought they could hold you to that contract forever.”

“They can, as long as the earl"s son is alive. But it"s been over nine years since he left or anyone has heard from him. For all we know, he could be dead and buried in a ditch somewhere, the victim of a robbery or some other crime.”

“Oh, good Lord!” Carol exclaimed, her blue eyes wide. “That"s it, isn"t it? You can petition to have him declared dead after all this time has passed! I can"t believe I never thought of that before!”

“Neither did I, but that"s what one of my solicitors advised me to do three months ago when I came into my inheritance,” Julia said with a nod. “The earl will put up a fight, but the situation speaks for itself and is thus in my favor.

“I have to admit I"ll miss the carte blanche that engagement gives me,” Julia added. “Think about it. You said it yourself, I don"t even need a chaperone because I"m engaged. Everyone looks at me and sees a woman who"s as good as married. How many parties do you think I"ll be invited to when people know I"m an heiress looking for a husband?”

“Don"t be absurd,” Carol scoffed. “You"re very well liked and you know it.”

“And you"re too loyal to see the broader picture. I"m not a threat to anyone right now, that"s why the ton finds me an acceptable addition to their guest lists. They don"t look at me and worry I might lure their sons down the social ladder. They don"t look at me and worry I might steal their daughter"s prime catch out from under her.”

“Nonsense, nonsense, and more nonsense,” Carol said quite adamantly. “You, m"girl, don"t give yourself enough credit. People like you for yourself, not for your wealth or your

„unavailability," as you put it.”

Carol was still speaking from her loyal heart, but Julia knew that the aristocracy could and often did look down on tradesmen as beneath their notice. But ironically, that stigma had never really touched her. Possibly because she"d been engaged to an aristocrat all her life and everyone knew it. Or maybe because her family was so bloody rich it was quite often an embarrassment; particularly with so many nobles coming to her father over the years for loans, you"d think he was a bank. But Carol"s father had also pulled strings, at his daughter"s behest, to get Julia into the exclusive private finishing school that Carol attended, and Julia had made other friends from the nobility there.

All of that had opened doors for her. But those same doors would close quite quickly once it became known she was looking for a husband.

“I can"t believe we didn"t come up with this solution sooner,” Carol remarked. “So now that you"re about to be rid of that albatross around your neck, have you started looking for a real husband?”

Julia grinned. “I"ve been looking. I just haven"t found a man I want to marry yet.”

“Oh, don"t be so bloody particular,” Carol said, and probably didn"t realize she sounded like her husband, Harry. “I can think of any number of suitable—” When Julia laughed, Carol paused and demanded, “What"s so funny?”

“You"re thinking of your social circles, but I"m not locked into finding another lord for a husband just because I"m currently engaged to one. Far from it. I have many more choices than that. Not that I"m discounting an aristocrat. I"m even looking forward to that ball this weekend that heralds the new social Season.”

Carol frowned. “So in the last few months no one has piqued your interest?” Julia blushed. “Very well, so I am a little particular, but let"s face it, you were very, very lucky to find your Harry. But how many Harrys are out there, eh? Yet I want a man who will stand in my corner with me, just like you have, not one who will put me behind him in his corner. I also need to protect my inheritance from a man who might squander it. I need to make sure it"s still there for the children I hope to have one day.” Carol"s eyes suddenly widened in alarm. “Look how much time has been wasted! You"re twenty-one and not married yet!”

“Carol!” Julia exclaimed with a chuckle. “I"ve been twenty-one for how many months now?

Nothing has changed about my age.”

“But you were an engaged twenty-one. That"s quite different from being twenty-one without a fiancé, and it"s going to be in the papers when you have the earl"s son declared dead.

Everyone will know—oh, stop looking daggers at me. I’m not calling you an old maid—”

“You already did, not fifteen minutes ago, right here at this table.”

“I didn"t mean it. I was just making a point, and, well, deuce it all, this is so different! This is you without a fiancé!”

Julia shook her head. “You"re seeing things with your eyes again instead of trying to look through mine. You and the other girls we went to school with all believed you had to marry your first Season out the door or the sky would fall. That is so silly and I told you that back then. This year, five years from now, ten years from now, it makes no difference to me when I marry as long as I"m not marrying my current fiancé and as long as I"m still young enough to have children.”

“It"s a luxury to think that way, you know,” Carol huffed again.

“So there are some benefits to not being an aristocrat.”

The pointed way Julia said that caused Carol to burst out laughing. “Touché. But you know what this means, don"t you? I"m going to have to arrange quite a few parties for you now.”

“No, you"re not.”

“Yes, I am. So do break off from going to that Malory ball this weekend. You"re not going to find very many young men there, and I will widen my guest list now to include—”

“Carol, you"re being so silly! You know very well this ball is going to be the ball of the Season. The invitations are highly prized right now. Why, I was even offered three hundred pounds for mine.”

Carol"s eyes flared. “You must be joking.”

“Yes, I am, it was only two hundred pounds.”

Julia didn"t get the laugh she"d hoped for. Carol gave her a stern look instead and said, “I know who that ball is for even if it"s supposed to be a secret. You"ve become chummy with Georgina Malory and have even been to her house a number of times—”

“They"re our neighbors, for goodness" sake, and have been our neighbors for what, seven—

eight years now? They live just down the street!”

“—but you won"t catch me stepping foot in there,” Carol continued as if she hadn"t been interrupted.

“The ball isn"t at Georgina"s house. Her niece Lady Eden is giving it.”

“Doesn"t matter. Her husband will be there and I"ve managed to avoid meeting James Malory all these years. I"ve heard all the stories about him. I"m going to continue to avoid him, thank you very much.”

Julia rolled her eyes. “He"s not the ogre you make him out to be, Carol. I"ve told you that a number of times. There"s nothing sinister or dangerous about him.”

“Of course he"d hide that side of himself from his wife and her friends!”

“You"ll never know until you meet him, Carol. Besides, he hates social events so much, he might not even attend this one.”

“Really?”

Julia held her tongue. Of course he"d attend, the ball was in his wife"s honor. But she let Carol assimilate the slim chance that he might not attend and got the response she"d hoped for.

“Very well, I"ll go with you.” But Carol wasn"t that gullible, because she added, “And if he is there, just don"t mention it, I"d rather not know.”

Chapter Three

GABRIELLE ANDERSON STOOD at the helm, steering The Triton. The sea was calm today. She was barely having to put any effort into keeping the wheel steady. Her husband, Drew, didn"t worry that she"d sink his beloved ship. He knew that during the three years she"d sailed the Caribbean with her father, Nathan Brooks, and his treasure-hunting crew, Nathan had taught her everything there was to learn about running a ship. She really enjoyed steering. She just couldn"t do it for an extended period without her arms beginning to shake from the strain.

Drew took over without a word, just a kiss to her cheek. He didn"t give her a chance to get out of the way, though, so she was now trapped between his arms, which she didn"t mind at all.

She leaned back against his wide chest with a sigh of contentment. Her mother had often warned her never to fall in love with a man who loves the sea. With her father away at sea when she was growing up, Gabrielle had taken that advice seriously, until she realized how much she loved the sea as well. So her husband wouldn"t be leaving her at home while he sailed around the world, she"d be right there with him.

This was their first long trip since they"d married last year. They"d taken many short ones between the islands and a few to Drew"s hometown, Bridgeport, Connecticut, to buy furniture, but this trip was finally taking them back to England, where they"d first met, and where half of Drew"s family lived now.

A letter from his brother Boyd had caught up to them at the beginning of the year, giving them the amazing news that he"d married, too, and not long after Drew had tied the knot.

Boyd"s marriage was unexpected, but it wasn"t a complete surprise, since he hadn"t been a confirmed bachelor like Drew. The surprising part was that Boyd brought the count up to three Anderson siblings who had now married into the huge Malory family in England. But the really amazing part was that Boyd had fallen in love with a Malory no one had known about, including his wife and her father!

And drat Boyd, he"d only given them bits and pieces of how all that had come about. Drew was eager to hear the whole story and would have sailed for England right after receiving his brother"s letter if he and Gabrielle hadn"t been in the middle of building their home on the beautiful little island Gabrielle had been given as a wedding gift.

But their house was finally finished and now they were on their way to England. Boyd had also suggested in his letter that the whole family gather in England this year for their sister"s, Georgina"s, birthday, which was a perfect excuse for a family reunion. Gabrielle and Drew would arrive in good time for both events.

An only child, Gabrielle was delighted to have married into a large family. There were five Anderson brothers and one sister. Gabrielle had only met the three youngest siblings so far, but she wasn"t worried about meeting the three older brothers. She was looking forward to it.

She"d been feeling chilled until Drew cocooned her with his body. It might almost be summer and they would reach England tomorrow if the wind held steady, but there was simply no comparison between the cold Atlantic and the warm Caribbean waters she had grown used to.

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