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To Take This Lord

(An Improper Proposal)


(ISBN: 0-8217-7525-1)




Chapter 1

"I declare, Sally, the only time my poor nephew doesn't cry is when you're present," said Glee, who was plaiting the hair of her own little toddler, Joy.

Sally Spenser dropped a kiss on little Sam's golden ringlets and continued to rock him.  She told herself she had become attached to the little tyke because he had never known a mother's caress.  More likely, Sally's affection for Sam was fed by his own father's scorn for his innocent son.

Sam's father, George Pembroke, the Viscount Sedgewick, was undoubtedly the most exasperating man Sally had ever known. His disinterest in his heir was unforgivable.  His propensity for tipping a cup too much was irresponsible.  His predilection for gaming was unwise.  And his taste in poetry was nonexistent.  In short, there was not a single thing about the viscount of which Sally approved.  They could not be in the same chamber together for five minutes without clashing.

 Why, then, had she adored him for half of her two-and-twenty years?  Ever since she and Glee had become best friends while attending Miss Worth's School for Young Ladies, Sally had worshipped Glee's elder brother.  It wasn't as if George had ever given Sally a crumb of encouragement.  Quite the contrary.  The viscount had never had eyes for any woman on earth, save his beloved wife Dianna, who had been dead these two years past.

It hurt Sally to see George descend fauther into the grim valley of grief he had dug for himself since Dianna's death.  It was evident he had no desire to live.  There was no longer any joy in his life, save his love for his daughter, who bore a striking resemblance to her mother.

"I'm so happy you've come to Bath," Glee said to Sally.  "Not just because I love you so dearly and am so thoroughly happy to see you--but because poor little Sam needs you.  I've become quite concerned about him.  He doesn't speak at all, and Joy--who's a week younger than he--is already talking in sentences."

Sally bristled.  "Mama said girls always talk before boys do. She also said to never compare children for they each develop at a different rate, but they all get to the same place sooner or later."

Glee sighed.  "I hope you're right--about boys speaking later.  I worry so about Sam.  I keep wondering if I'm doing the right thing by allowing him to continue under George's roof.  My brother is such a brute!  I truly believe Sam would be better off with me--except, of course, for missing his sister, whom George would never give up."  Glee removed her daughter from her lap, stood her up,  and gave her rump an affectionate swat.  "I want Sam and George to grow close, and the only way that can happen is if George has to be responsible for him."

"You have no reason to feel guilty," Sally said.  "George does need to exercise his fraternal responsibilities."  She lovingly ran her fingers through Sam's tresses.  "Surely one day George will realize how precious Sam is."

Sally reached down to clasp Sam's bare feet.  "This little piggy," she began.

And he sat up and squealed with delight.

By the time Sally had finished grabbing each of Sam's chubby, curled toes, he was giggling.

Then, his sister strolled into the room, a great, fat fluffy gray cat in her little arms.

Sam scooted off Sally's lap and ran to take the cat from his sister.  The cat, who was obviously immune to Sam's clumsy abuse, was almost as big as Sam.

Sally was pleased that Georgette was willing to share her pet with her forlorn little brother.

Joy, her little legs churning, ran over to her female cousin.  "See, Mama made my hair pretty.  Like the maiden in the book."

Georgette hopefully looked from Joy to Glee.  "Will you plait my hair, too, Aunt Glee?"

"I should be happy to, Georgette.  Come here," Glee said as her arms stretched out.

Sally stared after Georgette.  Though her name was a variation of her father's, she was all Dianna.

Sally still remembered her own grief when she had learned George had become betrothed to Dianna Moreland.  How painfully difficult it would be to abandon her dream of growing up and capturing George's heart.  At first Sally was convinced George was shackling himself to Miss Moreland for her enormous dowry.

Then, the seventeen-year-old Sally met the nineteen-year-old Dianna.  And Sally was even more devastated.  Of course George would love Dianna!  She was not only wealthy, but elegant, gracious and beautiful.  Like her daughter was now.  Georgette was tall for a four-year-old.  Her mother had been tall, too.  And Georgette was very fair of face with rich dark brown hair and eyes.  Just like Dianna.

After Glee finished braiding Georgette's hair, she sent the children off with their nurse, then turned to her dear friend.  "Now you simply must tell me what brings you back to Bath so soon after you arrived at your brother's house.  What has he now done to cause you to be so out of charity with him?"

Sally, who was on her knees picking up after the children, sighed.  "He all but promised my hand in marriage to the odious Mr. Higginbottom."

"Pray, why is Mr. Higginbottom so odious?"

"Perhaps the word odious is unjust.  The man may be perfectly amiable, but it is difficult for me to determine that because I'm so shallow a person I'm frightfully put off by his appearance.  'Tis no fault of his that he is fat and persists in wearing garments that fit him when he was a much leaner man.  And it's terribly unkind of me to object to the fact that his head is as hairless as a billiard ball.  Suffice it to say the man has a granddaughter who is my age."

Glee's eyes widened.  "Oh, dear, that will never do!  Does Edmund actually think you would be that desperate to marry?"

Sally's lips folded into a grim line, and her grip tightened on Joy's cloth doll.  "My feelings were never considered, I assure you.  All that mattered to Edmund was Mr. Higginbottom's large purse."  She tossed the doll into a basket.

"I cannot understand why your mother would continue to live under her son's roof when he is so thoroughly mercenary.  Did he not himself marry for position rather than love?"

Sally nodded.  "Mama is no proponent of love matches.  Her father arranged her marriage.  Besides, she is besotted over Edmund, and he persuaded her how advantageous it would be for me if I were to marry Mr. Higginbottom."

"Oh, dear," Glee said.  "And knowing you and your sharp tongue, I am persuaded you alienated Edmund dreadfully."

"I could hardly be expected to hold my tongue---"  Sally shook her head and burst out laughing.  "I daresay I've never been one to hold my tongue in my entire life."

Glee laughed, too.  "I daresay you're right."

"But I'm now faced with the difficulty of my situation.  I refuse to go back to Edmund's, and David is off who-knows-where in the navy.  As the daughter of a deceased vicar, I obviously have no great fortune of own."

Glee's smile widened and her eyes twinkled.  "You'll just have to live with Blanks and me!"

"As much as I love you," Sally said, "I refuse to live off your charity.  I shall have to take a position.  I've been thinking . . . I was at the top of our class at Miss Worth's . . . Do you suppose she would engage me to teach at the school?"

Glee shook her head vigorously.  "I shan't allow you to think on the matter!  Why, you're the niece of Lord Bankston!"  Her eyes surveyed Sally, who was putting everything in its place.  "Though, I declare, looking at you now, one would believe you a parlormaid.  Do leave that for the servants!"

"You know I cannot."

Glee nodded.  "I know.  Living with you at Miss Worth's was the only time in my life I had a tidy bedchamber."

"Then my neatness did not rub off on you?"

"Heavens no!  I shouldn't wish to have everything tucked away for I'd never be able to find anything.  But that is not what we were discussing.  About your teaching . . . I daresay Lord Bankston would suffer apoplexy if he thought his niece would accept a position as a teacher."

"Grandniece.  Then I shan't tell him," Sally said curtly.  "My mind is made up, Glee.  I wish to be independent.  I refuse to live off anyone's charity."

"You were going to live with your brother.  What is the difference between living with me--who loves you--or living with your wretched brother?"  Glee challenged.

"Edmund was charged by our father with the responsibility of taking care of us upon Papa's death.  All of Papa's money--what there was of it--went to his firstborn with that caveat.  Edmund bought David's colours and was to make a home for Mama and me with him and Drucilla and their children."

"I am certain that if you stayed here in Bath with Blanks and me you would quickly capture a husband, and that would solve all your problems."

"You may be certain of it, but I'm not," Sally said.  "You and Felicity and Dianna all easily captured agreeable husbands because you are beautiful.  Unfortunately, I cannot aspire to such hopes."

"You are pretty," Glee countered.

"If one likes females as tall and shapeless as a beanpole.  And add to that I am possessed of hair that bears a remarkable resemblance to brittle straw."

"That's not true!  Granted, you are taller than average and slight of frame, but your face is pretty.  Why, you have the nicest dimples I've ever beheld, and your eyes are lovely.  'Tis so unexpected to see dark brown eyes on a blonde.  I vow, I would trade anything I have--save Blanks and Joy--to have your complexion."

Sally rolled her eyes.  "You're the fair, pretty one.  Why would you want skin that's bronzed?"

"It's not bronzed.  It's . . . tawny.  Like you.  Shades of golds and browns.  You're really very pretty."

"Would that men shared your views," Sally muttered.  Her eyes narrowed as she watched Glee.  "Speaking of men, I detect a marked difference of late in your husband.  You have every right to tell me it is none of my concern, but I'm quite distressed over what I witness.  Blanks had become so responsible, such an attentive husband, and now he's returned to his former ways, cavorting with that brother of yours."

Glee's little shoulders shrugged and she spoke in a troubled whisper.  "We shall never have another child, for he absents himself from my bed."

Other maidens might turn scarlet and avert their gazes when confronted with talk of what occurred between a married couple in the bedchamber, but not Sally.  Her brows lowered.  "I cannot believe Blanks has fallen out of love with you!"

"Oh, he hasn't," Glee said.  "The problem is he loves me too dearly.  Ever since Dianna died on childbed, my darling Blanks is determined to spare me such a fate.  And--because he loves me so dearly--he cannot be close to me and not . . . well, not wish to make love to me.  So that is why he is never around."

Sally sprang to her feet and glided across the carpeted floor to Glee.  "Oh, you poor dear.  We must put a stop to his ridiculous behavior."  She hugged Glee to her.

"I cannot think of what to do.  I have spoken to him any number of times and assured him the women in my family are good breeders.  Felicity's already delivered two perfect children, and Mama delivered three.  I told him I am positive I shall never die until every red hair on my head has turned white."

"And what does he say?"

Glee's lashes fell.  "He says one in four women die on childbed, and he'll not have me being one of them."  A sob escaped her and she turned to Sally with weepy eyes.  "Oh, Sally, you cannot imagine how good it is to lie with a man you love so desperately."

Oh, but Sally could.  Though a virgin, she was no blushing maiden.  She could never behold George's muscled body and not long to have it stretched beside hers, to feel his solidness beneath her sweeping hands, to want to take him inside of her.  Thinking on it now caused her heart to drum.

Shaking her head, Glee walked toward the door.  "Our conversation has been far too draining.  Come, let's go to the Pump Room.  Perhaps I shall see my wayward husband there, and you can scold him."


Glee excessively disliked having to leave Sally on just her second day in Bath, but Felicity had summoned Glee to nearby Winston Hall.  And since Felicity was the eldest of the siblings, neither Glee nor George had ever possessed the backbone to defy her.  Not that there had ever been any need to, since Felicity's judgment was unerring.

So now Glee found herself in the Moreland's library facing Felicity and a solemn George, with both doors leading into the chamber firmly closed behind the three of them.

"Pray, what is all this about?" Glee asked.

Felicity's eyes flashed in anger, and her hands flew to her waist, elbows pointed outward.  "It's about George.  We've all been patient with him in his grief."  She turned narrowed eyes on him, and her voice softened.  "Don't forget that I know what it is to lose a beloved spouse.  I never wanted to love another man again.  I had known love with Michael."

"You cannot compare Michael Harrison to Dianna!" George snapped.  "No woman can ever take her place.  No woman has ever been created who could be her equal."

"Be that as it may," Felicity said, "I've brought you here to tell you life goes on.  Whether you ever remarry is irrelevant--though I do sincerely hope you will again know love.  What is relevant, dearest brother of mine, is your children.  And I'm persuaded your indifference toward them and your immature, selfish ways have to stop.  We've said nothing to you up to this point because of your overwhelming grief, but I can no longer stand by and see your children so neglected."

"My children are not neglected!  They have a very fine nurse who sees to all their needs."

"But they're already so handicapped, having no mother," Felicity said.  "They need a father.  And they need the influence of a woman of good birth.  Though she's only four, it's time Georgette has a governess.  She needs intercourse with a well bred lady.  As does little Sam."

Now Glee stepped forward, her green eyes flashing.  "Are you even aware of the fact your son cannot speak?  He's such a sad little fellow, with virtually no parents to love him."


George was unaware of the fact.  "At what age do most children speak?" he asked.

"Your own daughter had an extensive vocabulary when she was two," Glee said, "and my daughter is already speaking in sentences though she is a week younger than Sam."

"For Christ's sake, the lad's not yet two.  What do you expect?" George said.

Felicity interceded.  "He'll be two next week.  I'll grant you, boys speak later than girls.  My sons did not speak as early as my nieces.  Still, I'm concerned for little Sam."

"I'll thank you not to pity my son.  His nurse tells me he's quite intelligent."

"I don't for a moment doubt his intelligence," Glee said.  "It's his well-being I doubt."

"He's much larger than Georgette was at the same age," George countered.

"We're not saying Sam is physically neglected," Felicity said.  "It's his emotional battering that worries us."

"My son is not battered!"  These demmed sisters of his had no right to tell him how to raise his children!  There was nothing wrong with his son.  The boy was just shy.  That was all.  The lad's mother was shy, too.  God, but he missed her.  What had George ever done in his life to cause such unbearable sorrow to be heaped upon him?

"You're wrong," Glee said.  "He's been raised as an orphan."

"So, if I hire a governess, you expect that woman to become a mother to my children?"

"'Twould be better than things are now," Felicity said.  "Though best of all would be for you to remarry."

"That's out of the question," he said.

Felicity's voice gentled.  "Believe me, I perfectly understand your feelings."

"No one's been in my shoes," George said bitterly.


An idea--a wonderful, brilliant idea--seized Glee.  "George! Felicity!  I have a solution to the dilemma."

"To what dilemma?" George asked.

"The dilemma of your children having no mother," Glee answered.  "Sally could be their governess!  She is already perfectly devoted to your children, and just yesterday she told me she wished to find a position as a teacher.  This is infinitely better--because she's so excessively fond of little Sam--and of Georgette, too."

"Sally Spenser?" George asked.

Glee put hands to hips.  "Of course!  What other Sally dotes on your children?"

He shrugged.  "Never thought of the niece of an earl being a governess.  Doesn't sound right."

"She's merely Lord Bankston's grandniece," Glee said. 

Felicity walked up to George and settled a gentle arm around him.  "Think on it, George.  In the meantime, Glee can make inquiries to see if Miss Spenser would even consider being your children's governess."

Glee's thoughts were flitting through her brain at a miraculous rate of speed.  Not only would Sally be perfect for the children, she would be good for George, too.  Not in the romantic sense, of course.  They weren't at all suited.  In fact, they argued all the time.  But Sally, with her honest tongue, was probably the only woman on earth who could handle George.  If anyone could turn him around, it would be Sally Spenser.

"I should wish for both of you to dine with Blanks and me tonight.  Miss Spenser is presently my house guest, George, and you will have the opportunity to see for yourself if you think she will do."


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