Today's Reading

He waved his hand. "I'm tired, Locke, I'm simply tired, but I must secure my legacy. I should have married before now, provided a spare. But I was encumbered by grief." He sank against the back of the chair as though little strength remained to him. "Your mother, bless her, should have gone on to her just reward instead of waiting around here for me."

Statements such as that one always tore at Locke, made dealing with his sire that much more challenging. His mother wasn't out on the moors waiting. His father simply refused to let her go.

"I will marry, Father. I will provide an heir. I won't let your titles or your estates go to Cousin Robbie. I simply have to find the right woman first." A woman with a churlish disposition he could never, ever love.

"Mrs. Portia Gadstone could be the one, Locke. I daresay, if you like her when we meet her, I shall be a gentleman, step aside, and give you my blessing to marry her this very afternoon."

As though Locke were open to that happening. Unfortunately for Mrs. Gadstone, when she arrived, he would be showing her right back out the door.

The Marquess of Marsden is in need of a strong, healthy, fertile woman to provide an heir. Send queries care of this publication.

As the coach bounced over the rough road, Portia Gadstone folded up the advert she had clipped from the newspaper and slipped it back into her reticule. Turning her attention to the bleak countryside she reflected that it wasn't nearly as bleak as her life. Agreeing without compunction or remorse to marry a man whom all of London knew to have lost his sanity pretty much said it all.

Her life was in shambles, she was penniless, and she had nowhere else to turn.

But marriage to the marquess suited her plans beautifully. Havisham was a large estate in Devonshire at the edge of Dartmoor. Isolated. No one ever visited. The marquess never left. It was unlikely that anyone would think to look for her there. But if they did, she would be a marchioness, a woman who had gained power—power she was willing to wield if necessary, to protect herself and all she loved.

The marquess had sent her funds for her journey, but fearing discovery of her escape, she'd purchased neither railway nor coach ticket, opting instead to travel in a mail coach. The driver, a big burly fellow, was kind enough, didn't bother her, and hopefully, after delivering her to her destination, would forget he'd ever set eyes on her.

Reaching into her reticule she removed a hard peppermint sweet from a paper sack and popped it into her mouth. She'd been traveling for far too long, was tired and hungry, but nothing good ever came of complaining. Best to just get on with the task no matter how unpleasant it might be, and she was fairly certain that today would be filled with naught but unpleasantness. But she would push through and ensure the marquess never regretted taking her to wife.

As they rounded a curve, she saw the monstrous building—black as Satan's soul, with towers, turrets, and spires reaching for the heavens—looming before her, growing larger each time the horses' hooves hit the ground. It could be no other than Havisham Hall. A chill skittered down her spine. If she had any other choice—

Only she didn't.

With her marriage to the marquess she would step into the aristocratic circle. Marchioness of Marsden. She would garner respect simply because of her position at his side. And the child she delivered to him would be safe, under his protection.

No one would dare harm the child. No one would dare hurt her.

Ever again. ...

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