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The Marriage Duel

The Marriage Duel by Maureen Mackey
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Everyone in London knows that the lovely Clarinda Humphreys cannot be married before her sister, Jane. But no man dares to court the sharp-tongued spinster, despite the large dowry her desperate father is willing to provide. Randolph Masters, army captain and a viscount, finds Jane unusual and refreshing. Intrigued, he decides to take on the challenge of wooing her. As a last resort, Jane tries to dissuade him by disguising herself as a man and engaging him in a duel. Though she manages to wound him, Masters wins the duel, unmasks her and claims her hand in victory. Then he discovers that his real task has just begun. Winning her hand turns out to be much easier than winning her affection, as their marriage duel continues.

Awe-Struck Publishing; June 2005
183 pages; ISBN 9781587495038
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Title: The Marriage Duel
Author: Maureen Mackey
Masters had a vague sense that his cousin was attending to an extremely pretty girl on the rug. This must be Nigel’s fair Clarinda, he realized. She was certainly the diamond Nigel had described though to his mind her beauty was marred by petulance. He did not spare more than a moment for the beauteous Clarinda, for his eyes were riveted to the other female in the room. This must be the notorious Jane, the woman no man had been able to claim as his own. Jane’s hair was as mussed as her sister’s but it did not look nearly as artful. Wisps of dark auburn hair with fiery highlights formed a storm cloud around her face. She stood silhouetted against the windows, pillow in hand, bosom heaving, emerald eyes flashing, and indignation streaming out of her like hot lava from an exploding volcano. She looked like a modern reincarnation of Britain’s ancient Queen Boadicea, and just as capable of torching all of London in her wrath. She was the most magnificent female he had ever seen. Jane caught his gaze and it seemed to startle her. The rigid tension in her stance went limp, like a neckcloth with the starch washed out of it. For a brief moment she seemed bewildered. Abruptly she sat with a thud on the settee cushion. “Girls, what is the meaning of this?” said Humphreys. “Jane threw —” “Clarinda said —” Humphreys raised his hand to halt the clamor. “No matter. I have brought you visitors. Both of you may be excused to make yourselves presentable.” Jane recovered her poise at her father’s words, and stood, tossing her head rebelliously. She looked over to the men. Her gaze passed quickly over Nigel to linger uncertainly on Masters. Masters felt a jolt as her green gaze connected to his. He met her gaze boldly, and was intrigued to see she did not falter. She met him stare for stare, curious and challenging. He found it difficult to tear himself away, yet he did not want her to gain the upper hand. He bowed, then gave her his best insolent wink. Confused, she broke eye contact with him at that, which left him feeling oddly elated. “Father, I will retire to my room to rest.” “You will do no such thing, Jane. Not when Lord Masters has come especially to see you. Now go with your sister and change your gown.” Jane looked mutinous. “I have no wish for company now. Besides, it is time for Fortunata’s bath.” “Mary or one of the other maids can wash your dratted dog. The bitch is easy enough to catch.” He laughed uproariously at his witticism, which Masters did not understand. He did observe the sudden spark in Jane’s eyes. Without a word she turned and prepared to leave the room. Clarinda preceded her, after making a lengthy production of saying goodbye to Nigel. Jane stopped in the doorway, and came back to pick up a book from the side table. So Jane’s a reader, thought Masters, and undoubtedly a bluestocking as well as a termagant. Her color was high as she favored her father with a smile that appeared decidedly false to Masters. “I will leave you gentlemen to your privacy, Father, so you can laugh some more at the expense of my unfortunate pet.” Grabbing the door handle, she whirled out of the room, slamming the door hard behind her. A porcelain plate propped on the mantel crashed on the brick hearth below. Humphreys picked up a shard. “Wedgwood,” he said glumly. “A wedding gift from my Aunt Augusta, if I recollect correctly.” He placed the green and white fragment on the mantel shelf. “That girl will be the death of me yet.” “It does appear she is hard on the crockery,” Masters agreed blandly. Humphreys raised mournful eyes to Masters. “I cannot misrepresent her temperament now, even if I wanted to. You have seen for yourself how she is. Do you still wish to court her, sir?”