"Ahhh, but Ryan, Annelisse Calloway is nigh uncatchable. Every suitor in the country is after her hand." Watson Stanbridge, lifelong best friend Lord Ryan Clairborne, reminded his companion as if talking to a small child.
"Yes, but, has she chosen one yet? I think not. Yet, as she matures, most will certainly lose interest and seek company elsewhere. He poured himself some brandy. "Want some?" Ryan didn't wait for an answer, handing Watson a snifter anyway. "The only thing those suitors are seeking is her raven hair spread on their pillow, and her pale thighs between theirs."
Watson laughed quietly. "'Tis the same for you, is it not?"
"Well, in truth, yes, but I plan on winning that honor, rather than just chasing it." His dark eyes gleamed. "Do you not have faith in me?" The lord teased.
"I hold your wooing talents only in the highest regard, but Miss Calloway is no ordinary woman. She's an opinionated, strong-willed, fiery little wench of no more than 19 years and with more spirit than a female should be allowed."
"It cannot be much different than taming a wild stallion, and I've done that time and time again. Moreover, I have the one asset unreachable to the lot of them. Power. I am the most highly esteemed man in all of England. I, Lord Clairborne, am untouchable." His manner quickly turned from teasing to business-like. "I've already spoken with her father, and the Annelisse Calloway is now promised to me. The methods by which that result was achieved are unimportant." His voice betrayed how proud he was of himself. "She will be arriving within the hour. She is to move into the house, the suite adjoining mine. And as to her knowledge at the moment, she is under the impression that she is en route to care for her sick aunt. I daresay she will be surprised, pleasantly of course, when she discovers the true nature of her trip. Our betrothal celebration will be next week, and the guests will begin to arrive 3 days from now. I believe I've been quite thorough. Do you agree?" He grinned mischievously.
"Though I've known you your entire life, and I count myself as one of your closest acquaintances, you still retain the ability to astound me."
"Yes, well, it's a talent of mine that I'm quite fond of." He laughed. "Now, would you make yourself useful and alert the servant to prepare the necessary arrangements?"
Watson left the room quickly before losing his composure in the hallway. He is completely unaware of what is surely to come.
Stefania Calloway sighed and leaned back into the plush leather seat of the gold-gilded carriage her father had arranged. It wasn't the kind of carriage they took to her aunt's house. Though, thanks to her sister, she'd already known that she wasn't headed to care for the ailing relative.
From the second she first spotted the familiar gleam in Annelisse's eyes, she knew that the best thing to do would be to run. Fast. Whenever her twin got that look, she was up to something, and it was never something good. Though, being the kind of sister she was, Stefania stayed to listen to what Annelisse had to say. This time, it was definitely her worst idea. Ever.
From the time Stefania and Annelisse were infants, the only person who could tell them apart was their nursemaid, Emilia. Even their own, doting father was unable to tell the difference. Emilia knew, being their primary caregiver, that Stefania had slightly darker emerald eyes, and a dark freckle under her left brow. Without those two differentiating characteristics, Stefania and Annelisse were perfectly identical.
Annelisse was older, by two hours. She was spirited, self-assured, and fiercely independent. Stefania, on the other hand was shy, quiet, and heard to be described as meek on more than one occasion. Annelisse was constantly attending balls and parties, whereas Stefania would much rather stay at the manor and read under her favorite apple tree. Annelisse had more suitors chasing after her than one could count. Stefania had but one, a rather subdued character. Most of the English ton were unaware that Annelisse even had a twin sister.
When Annelisse overheard that she was to be betrothed to Lord Claiborne, information she received by eavesdropping, she decided to do something about it. Her plan? To have Stefania take the trip to Clairborne's manor in her place, and the following week, trade places while she was there for the betrothal celebration to announce that she had already promised her hand in marriage. The only problem? She hadn't promised herself. But that was easy to fix. She had one week to find a socially acceptable man, and get him to propose to her. She had more than her share of men chasing after her, so it couldn't be too hard. And, in the meantime, Stefania would live at the Lord's manor in her place, they would switch places in a week, and no one would be the wiser.
When Stefania had asked Annelisse what was so awful about Lord Clairborne, the answer she received was less than satisfactory. Annelisse declared that there was nothing wrong with him, except the fact that she, herself, hadn't chosen him. She refused to marry someone she had never met on the grounds that her father told her it was in her best interest. She wouldn't have objected to the union if Clairborne had asked her before going to her father. Stefania cursed her sister's stubborn pride.
Somehow, Annelisse had gotten her to agree to the harebrained scheme, and Stefania was currently on her way to the Devil's Lair, posing as her sister.
Ryan had heard about Annelisse's temperament, but he was completely unprepared for what had arrived on his doorstep. From the moment she walked into his foyer, Annelisse was silent and passive, but something told him she wasn't complacent in the least bit. She seemed unsurprised at his explanation, as if she had known the situation. She had retired to her room soon after she got there, leaving him in his current bewildered state.
He hadn't told her the truth, he admitted, but he was kind enough in clarifying the circumstances. He explained that it had been agreed they were a good match, there were to be married in three months, and they had a betrothal celebration coming up in a week. He had promised they would get acquainted beforehand. It was then, that she confessed her fatigue from the trip and retreated to her room. He hadn't heard from her since.
He vowed to make up for her unsatisfactory first night in the morning.