To Catch A Spinster (The Reluctant Bride Collection)

Prologue
 

M
iss Olivia Blakesley watched as her youngest sister was married and thought, “That does it, old girl. You are officially on the shelf.”

Truthfully, she wasn’t quite yet. But at the ripe old age of seven and twenty, with two older sisters and three younger sisters all married, she was close enough. What man would want the sister who had been left behind? More importantly, why would she want the man who would want her?

She wouldn’t. So it was a good thing she had her studies and responsibilities. She was fairly certain she would have gone stark raving mad these last eight years waiting for a suitor who would never come if she hadn’t started studying the stars or helping her father with the accounts. Not exactly respectable activities for a gentle young woman, but she enjoyed them.

Her mother blamed those activities for her current matrimonial-less state. What woman would rather sneak outside to paint stars than flirt with a beau? What woman who was at least pretending she wanted to get married would wear those high-necked, front-buttoned, somber-colored old maid rags?

Olivia handed her mother, who sat sniffling in the pew beside her, a clean handkerchief.

“Thank you, Olivia. I can always count on your handkerchief to be dry at weddings, can’t I? I don’t understand how you can be so emotionless.”

“I’m not emotionless, and you should be grateful as you now have two handkerchiefs to drench.”

Her father winked at her. “It’s not as if this wedding was a surprise, my dear.”

No, Eugenia had been promising that she would be snatched up the quickest since Prudence had taken nearly two years in the marriage mart. Eugenia had lasted a mere two months. The Blakesley sisters were nothing if not goal-oriented.

Olivia had her own goals and, unfortunately for her mother, they did not include catching a husband. Even so, she did not want to die inexperienced in love, estranged from her sisters because they knew something she didn’t.

Lust.

She did not want to die a virgin spinster aunt, caring for her aging parents.

It would be much better if she could die an
experienced
spinster aunt, caring for her aging parents.

She glanced at the cross hanging above the vicars head. Dear Lord, what was she considering? Was she really thinking of...

No. It was a sin. And she was in a church, for heaven’s sake.

But as her father was wont to say: In the course of life, some commandments must be broken. For emergencies. For science.

Thou shalt not kill. Definitely one to be broken in an emergency.

Thou shalt not worship any graven images. A few might say that Olivia worshiped her Dutch-made telescope. For science, of course.

Honor thy father and mother. She had never been any good at that one.

Thou shalt not commit adultery...

Well, she just wouldn’t choose a married man. This was, after all, a scientific emergency. She was not going to die an old maid.

Olivia looked back at the altar. Her beautiful sister in her lace-trimmed ivory satin wedding gown beamed at her new husband, who looked down at her with obvious love and a little bit of panic. Olivia would never have that. She would never fall in love. Never have someone to depend on— only herself.

She nodded. So be it. If she could not have everything, she would have something. If she could not have love, she would have lust. She would find someone to teach her desire.

Amen.

One
 

M
r. Nathaniel Jenkins had never wanted to dunk himself in the punch bowl and drown himself more than he did at that moment. The young lady before him was slowly turning his brain to mush and he was afraid it would start dribbling out his ears at any moment.

“And then I told the seamstress I wanted six ruffles. Three on the bodice and three on the hem.”

Of course, if it gave him an excuse to leave he wouldn’t mind a little dribbling. He glanced at his mother, who wasn’t even trying to hide her scowl, and decided not even that could get him out of this evening.

Nathaniel sighed into his glass. What he needed was something a little stronger than punch.

He took a small sip and sighed again. What he really needed was a mother who left him alone. The woman had four grandchildren already, wasn’t that enough?

If her expression was anything to go by, no.

“I had to pay nearly double. Outrageous.” The young lady fingered a ruffle on her bodice and smiled coyly. “But it was worth it, don’t you think?”

She looked like she would fly away in a stiff breeze but Nathaniel nodded. “You look quite...lovely.”

Her next dance partner came to relieve him and Nathaniel downed the rest of his punch in relief. He had done his duty, now he might be able to make his escape.

His mother slipped up beside him. “Nathaniel, really. You were quite rude, you hardly said a word to Miss Mayes.”

“I could hardly get a word in, Mother. She did allow me to compliment her, though.”

“Hmmph. Can you not try to like these girls? You need a wife, Nathaniel. You are the head of this family now and you need an heir.”

“I already have one. Diana’s son is my heir.”

“No matter how much we love Matthew, a nephew is not an acceptable heir. I do not understand how you can be so thick-headed about this.”

He knew his duty. Marry a young girl from a respectable family and father an heir. But he could not find it in himself to marry any of these empty-headed, brightly-colored chatterboxes. They looked like they should still be in the nursery. As for bedding one? Unless he could glue their mouths shut, it seemed impossible.

Perhaps he was too old. At thirty-nine, an eighteen year-old girl seemed as foreign as a sunny day in February.

Or perhaps he was too young. In another ten years he might jump at the chance to marry a young chit with her hair in braids. All he knew was he couldn’t do it now.

And if all he was being offered were these girls, he would not be getting married.

“Mother, if you really have a desire to see me married, I would suggest finding girls a little older. And quieter. And not so...frilly.”

“You are a bigger stick-in-the-mud than your father.”

“It is the custom nowadays for new heirs to outdo their father in some way. How gratifying to know I’ve achieved it.”

She tapped his arm lightly with her fan. “Perhaps I could ask your sister to look around.”

Nathaniel groaned. “Diana pops ‘round with her unsuspecting friends enough as it is.”

“I doubt her friends are quite as unsuspecting as you think. You’re quite the catch, if I do say so myself.”

“Just what a man wants to hear from his mother.”

She nodded decisively. “It’s true, nonetheless. You have a stable fortune, good relations, and, if not a title, then land.”

“I feel like a prize stallion.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic, dear. Even the lowliest stable-boy will find a mate. So should you.”

His gaze slid slowly over the crowd. “It seems that a lowly stable-boy would have more choice than I.”

His mother waved her hand impatiently. “There are as many different girls as there are fish in the sea.”

“They seem to be all the same species to me, Mother.”

“Hmm. Well, we’ll just have to find one that’s a little different.” He watched her inspect the girls nearest to her, and bit back a laugh.

“Good luck to you. Until then I’ll be at my club.”

Mrs. Anne Jenkins smiled up at her son, slipping her arm through his. “I don’t think you’ll find any suitable girls at your club. Besides, you agreed to take me home tonight. I see you so little as it is.”

“This would be so much easier if you would just arrange it all for me.”

“I would, dear, if you’d let me. But you have so many requirements for a wife.”

“I have three: not young, not chatty, not frilly. It’s not as if I’m being uncooperative.”

Mrs. Jenkins looked at the sea of young, chatty, frilly girls and patted his arm. “Well, I’m sure I’ll find someone for you.” She let out a long breath. “Hopefully.”

Olivia had been studying the men at the ball since she arrived. Since her sister’s wedding she had done nothing but imagine the perfect seducer. Tall, but not too tall. Handsome, but not diabolically so. Experienced, but not a rake. Good Lord, definitely not a rake. She did have a reputation to preserve. To be seen with a libertine would embarrass herself and her family.

Also, one of her brothers-in-law was a reformed rake. It was possible he knew more about the sexual arts than the others, but that sister was always worried that she would not be enough to, ahem, satisfy him.

Olivia had taken to listening at doors in her younger days.

But she had learned a good many things that way, and when no one would talk to you about certain subjects, it really was the only way.

So, no rake for her. She would like a gentle introduction, not a dunk in a cold pond.

He would need to be a gentle man, but not that gentle since he would have to seduce her. Obviously, not married. And above all, the very most important trait he would need to possess would be discretion. He could not tell anyone. Ever.

The list she’d made for a husband had not been this long.

It really was no wonder she hadn’t found anyone yet. She’d been searching for a husband eight years and that task was beginning to sound like a walk in the park compared to this.

The only gentleman she hadn’t dismissed outright was the one in the corner who looked like he wanted to poke his eyes out. She’d spoken to his companion a few times herself and understood the feeling. That unfortunate shade of orange didn’t help the girl either.

But while Miss Mayes might look supremely silly, he looked quite responsible. Mature. Stoic in the face of adversity.

Tight-lipped.

He did not look the sort to tell tales at all.

He did look a bit tall but she supposed lying down it wouldn’t matter. His dark brown hair was a bit longer than fashion dictated but as it was slightly curly, she approved. Her own stick-straight hair refused to curl, even with tongs.

His form was pleasing. Firm thighs, wide shoulders. Quite manly, actually.

Hmm.

Olivia leaned toward her younger sister, Mary. Not only was she Olivia’s closest sister, but she also had a knack for knowing interesting tidbits about nearly everyone. “Do you know who the gentleman in the far corner is?”

Mary looked discreetly. “Mr. Nathaniel Jenkins, the only son of Mrs. Anne Jenkins. Her husband died almost two years ago and Mr. Jenkins has still not taken a bride.”

“If she insists on him talking to silly young girls with too many flounces, it’s no wonder. I would like to be introduced to him.”

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