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No Ordinary Groom

No Ordinary Groom by Gayle Callen
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No Ordinary Engagement

Miss Jane Whittington's hopes have been dashed. She'd always imagined herself marrying someone daring, adventurous, exciting. Instead, the man her father has betrothed her to is...a fop! Certainly William Chadwick is devastatingly handsome, but Jane could never love a dandy who cares for nothing save the latest fashions. So why does his heated gaze enflame a desire in her that she's never known?

No Ordinary Love

His work as a British spy has kept William apart from proper society for years -- and he has no idea that his latest “disguise” is anything less than appropriate. Now that he longs for a simpler, safer lot, he believes he's found his ideal bride in this irresistible beauty. But it will take a special sort of seduction to win Jane's heart. And when the Crown calls him back into service, how can William refuse -- even if it costs him the peace he covets...and the woman he can no longer live without?

HarperCollins; May 2009
384 pages; ISBN 9780061945311
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: No Ordinary Groom
Author: Gayle Callen

Chapter One

August 1844

Miss Jane Whittington sat at her dressingtable, her chin resting on her hand, andstared at her own reflection. There was a pensivenessabout her that put an odd wrinkle betweenher slim, black eyebrows and turneddown the corners of her mouth.

This was now the face of an engaged woman.

No wonder she looked miserable.

She groaned and swept to her feet. Hermother was giving a dinner party this eveningin celebration of Jane's engagement to a baron,William, Lord Chadwick. Even if Jane had toforce a smile, she would do it for her mother's sake, though she still felt hurt by her father'shaste and secrecy in arranging the match. Shehad been waiting for the right time to tell themshe didn't wish to marry at all, that she wantedto control her own dowry.

Was it too late?

She picked up her thin gloves from the dressingtable and slid them on like armor before a battle.For once she remembered them withouthaving to be reminded. There was nothing left todo but go downstairs, greet their guests, and formulatea miraculous plan of escape from her fate.

When she reached the second-floor landing,she was able to peer over the edge of the widestaircase. She immediately caught the eye of theman glancing up.

Lord Chadwick, her groom. She wanted tolook away, but there was something in his gazeshe hadn't seen before, an intensity that feltstrangely ... intimate. A hot blush swept overher face. She was behaving like a girl freshfrom the schoolroom instead of a sensiblewoman of twenty-one years. For a moment hedidn't smile, and she felt an absurd hesitation,a feeling of something dark and hidden beneathhis usually cheerful countenance. Thenhe gave that irreverent grin that made himseem so ... shallow, and she dismissed her unusualfeeling as nothing but a flight of fancy.

She had become acquainted with Lord Chadwickbut a week before, at a dinner party hosted by her sister Charlotte, a widow newly out ofmourning. He had been all charm and goodmanners and decent looks—and rather too talkative,she thought reluctantly.

Giving him a cool nod, she put her handlightly on the banister and descended the stairs,studying him. He was a man of decent heightand nice breadth of shoulders beneath a perfectlycut black evening coat. His face was lean,with a pair of deep dimples scoring his cheekswhen he smiled. His teeth were shockinglywhite and his eyes brown. His dark hair -- a non-descriptbrown to match his eyes, she thought -- was slicked back with macassar oil, and his longsideburns had a touch of gray that made his agehard to determine. Her father, Viscount Whittington,hadn't thought to include such personalinformation in the letter that had told her the un-welcomenews about her marriage.

Overall, there was nothing to dislike aboutLord Chadwick's countenance -- his descriptioncould fit a score of her male acquaintances.When he wasn't talking, he could almost becalled handsome. Most women would be quitecontent, but Jane could not understand settlingfor such a feeling.

When she reached the foot of the stairs, LordChadwick bowed over her gloved hand andbrought it to his lips for a moment too long.

His eyes, as well as his mouth, smiled up ather. "Good evening, Miss Whittington."

She nodded perfunctorily and removed herhand from his. "Good evening, Lord Chadwick."

As he straightened, she watched his gazeslide down her body. It seemed impersonal, as ifhe were merely deciding if she was properlydressed for the occasion. She should be offended,but she was only annoyed.

She put her hand on his offered arm andwalked beside him into the drawing room. Shecould see that only a few guests had arrived.They were scattered between overstuffed tasseledchairs and sofas, potted ferns and marblecolumns. Cluttered on every table and shelf washer mother's odd collection of bric-a-brac, includingthe unusual gifts from Jane's father.

Just the thought of his many years in exoticcountries made Jane sigh with a frustrated longingto travel abroad -- something her motherdidn't understand. Jane had made plans for herdowry money in anticipation of her parents' acquiescence,mapping out each country shewould visit, continuing to learn the appropriatelanguages. She refused to give up on her dreamsso quickly.

Lady Whittington stood arm in arm withCharlotte Sinclair, Jane's sister. The twowomen were so alike in their petite, roundedbeauty; Jane felt like a lanky giraffe next tothem. They watched her and the baron withhopeful speculation.

Lord Chadwick led her near a small table, then turned to face her. "I say, your gown isquite the fashion, my dear."

She began to wonder if he flashed his dimpleswith deliberation. "Thank you, my lord. You dojustice to your garments, as well." Out of thecorner of her eye, she saw her mother whitenwith shock.

But Lord Chadwick only looked inordinatelypleased. "Do you really think so? I must say thatsince I arrived in London a month ago, I havebeen frequenting many a tailor to find just theright man for the style I require."

Jane's smile remained frozen on her face.Surely he would not subject her to the details.

"I am quite exacting in my demands about thequality of material and the emphasis on the latestdesigns."

He suddenly walked about her, and she narrowedher eyes at the spectacle he was makingof himself.

"I do have an exacting eye," he continued,"with a little help."

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