Jean de Lacey is a jaded French émigré who reluctantly decides the only way to revive his fortunes is by marrying a wealthy wife. But before he proposes to anyone, he must free himself of the smuggling gang he has been involved with since his arrival in England.
He woos young, beautiful Eugenie Ponnette, a fellow émigré, however, de Lacey resists agreeing to the love match she insists on, even though his passion for Eugenie is different to anything he has experienced before.
Before he can offer marriage, they are both caught up in danger – he from the smugglers he once called friends and her from de Lacey’s deranged ex-lover.
But Eugenie is no damsel in distress – except from her suppressed memories of the horrors she experienced in Paris, and her own discoveries of de Lacey’s deceptions.
Can de Lacey convince Eugenie that he is truly in love with her? Can they settle their differences and find true happiness together?
“You haven’t been yourself since you showed up on my doorstep three years ago,” remarked Lord Edenburgh. He leaned forward to pat his friend on the knee. “But all that is about to change. I am taking it upon myself to find you a suitable wife.”
De Lacey regarded him with dawning horror, and stammered, “No, mon ami… there is no need… I do not wish…”
“It’s quite obvious that you need to be pulled out of whatever doldrums you have let yourself fall into my dear fellow. A wife with a good dowry will get you out of your current financial difficulties and may provide the very distraction you need if she is pretty enough. And even if we are unable to locate you a wife, the process of doing so will provide quite a diversion.” A smile split Lord Edenburgh’s face, to be quickly followed by a serious expression. “I’m quite worried about you, old fellow.”
De Lacey smiled grimly. “You need not be, Quincey. I am capable of taking care of myself.” He picked up his brandy glass and tipped it up, aware of the social faux pas of trying to drain the last drop from the already empty vessel, but needing something on his tongue other than the sour taste of commitment.
“Bien sûr, I have considered taking a wife – it seems a most effective way to relieve me of my current difficulties – only what do I have to offer, Quincey? A worthless title and confiscated property? What woman would find those things enticing? Or rather, which woman’s family?”
Lord Edenburgh waved his concerns away with a flourish. “Nonsense. We all know the situation in France will be resolved sooner or later and your titles and lands restored. Admittedly, it’s taking longer than expected. But you’re still confident, aren’t you?”
“Of course.” It was a lie. De Lacey had been stranded in England for nearly three years now. He had watched as the King, and then the Queen were executed, and a reign of terror overtook France. Now, everything seemed to be teetering on some kind of precipice. And while change was occurring, de Lacey could no longer look to his country and see a place for himself. Still, it was all he had left, so outwardly he clung to his title and the potential return of his property, even if he didn’t feel it.
“Then all we need to do is secure a wife whose dowry will keep you until then. That will make the whole process much easier – we don’t need to look for a girl with a massive fortune, just an acceptable one. You’ll have dozens to choose from.” Lord Edenburgh smiled happily at de Lacey, but he simply couldn’t smile back. The thought of sifting through a mountain of debutantes was terrifying.
“Mon ami, I appreciate the assistance, I truly do, only I think…”
“We start tomorrow, at the Grenville’s ball.”
“No time like the present, old fellow.” Lord Edenburgh rubbed his hands together and de Lacey was a little afraid of the gleeful look on his face. “We’ll find you a suitable wife yet! Now, we should make a list.” He patted his jacket pockets, looking for, de Lacey assumed, pencil and paper.
De Lacey looked around wildly and caught the eye of the butler, who swiftly moved to his side.
“More brandy, Markham, s’il vous plaît. I’m going to need it.”