To marry the Earl of Havering.
And he’s utterly sinful to look at.
Tall. Thick, dark hair. The beginnings of a beard.
It only took one second to make the decision. One tiny second to decide that I didn’t care if I spent the rest of my years in a loveless marriage. Love was for the weak anyhow. Look how things turned out for William and Elisabeth.
Love is a farce.
Those are all very real and palpable. Considering Father nearly lost our farm and continues to struggle to make ends meet despite having sold his daughter off to the highest bidder, I’m in no hurry to rush back.
Nothing remains for me back at the farm aside from Ella.
The vision of my younger sister, with her wispy, blond hair and kind, blue eyes, makes my heart clench painfully in my chest. She’s an innocent and always will be. Ella is the type of girl that will marry another farm boy and be perfectly content with a simple, poor life.
I’ve always required finer things. While at university, I learned this when a professor of mathematics, Sven, showed me what the world had to offer. He was teaching abroad while his wife and children stayed in Spain. Even though he came from money, teaching was his passion.
I was his passion.
Many nights, we shared a bed in his expansive home in London. Many nights, he lavished me with expensive gifts and wines. Many nights, he feasted upon me as if I were a world-class delicacy.
But when she showed up with the children?
He discarded me like I was a used-up whore.
I’d loved him.
Just like I’d loved William.
So I thought.
However, love is ridiculous and nothing more than a fleeting feeling. In both instances, I thought I was in love. Looking back, I simply needed their companionship. Their bodies pressed against mine. Their mouths worshipping my body.
Now, as I dip the quill pen into the ink, I smile.
For the rest of my life, I will have the best of everything. Wealth, power, a gorgeous faux husband, and whichever lovers who strike my fancy. Love won’t have a place in my life—messing things up as it’s done in the past.
“Are you having second thoughts, love?”
His voice sends a thrill through me as the pen holds still over the paper.
“Not at all, dear.” I flash him a conspiratorial smile. Heat washes over my skin when he rewards me with a lopsided grin.
“You’re a rare find, Edith. I am one lucky man.”
I know we’re talking about my eagerness to agree to his deal, but his words still make my heart pound.
He is lucky.
I am one of a kind.
“When shall we marry?” I question as I rewet the end of the pen in the ink and then scrawl out my signature.
The moment I sign, he snatches the paper away from me and scribbles his own.
“Tomorrow.” His word is simple, but I gape at him.
“Y-y-you don’t want to do that in front of your father? To make it more real for him?” I stammer, surprised by his answer.
He shakes his head as he fans the paper to dry the ink, his eyes never leaving mine. “You will soon discover my father sniffs out lies better than any hunting hound. That is why we need to marry and settle into a routine that will convince him before we return. Once I believe we are ready to return to Havering, Lord Thomas and your sister will come with us to bear testimony of our marriage and faithful love.”
I briefly snap my eyes closed at the mention of her. I’m not sure she’ll ever want to go anywhere with me ever again, considering what I did to her.
“Are you sure we can’t go alone?” I ask, reopening my eyes.
Steel-colored ones find mine, and he glowers at me. I square my shoulders and hold his gaze.
“You’ve signed the document. The deal is done. We do things my way. End of story,” he snarls.
I blink my eyes at him and wonder just what I may have hastily gotten myself into. “What if things don’t go your way? What if, when we get there, I tell your father everything?” I taunt. “What if I change my mind?” Some sinister part of me wants to know what will happen if I decide that this life of his isn’t for me.
His hand strikes like a cobra and catches my throat. Even though he doesn’t squeeze, terror floods my veins.
“Things will go my way. You will not tell my father. And you won’t change your mind,” he growls.
My lip trembles, and his eyes drop to them for a moment before glaring at me again.
“But what if?” I’m a glutton for punishment.
“Then I’ll kill you,” he says simply as he releases my throat and begins folding the contract. “Accidental of course. Obviously, you don’t understand the importance of this matter. I suggest you clear that foggy head of yours and show up to the chapel tomorrow with a better attitude. It would be tragic if I lost my fiancée on the eve of our wedding.”