From the book
Montague Estates, Yorkshire
Everything depended on this one shot.
Caroline Montague pulled back on her bow, the bite of the string sharp against her fingers. She closed one eye, sighted down the slender shaft of myrtle, and let her arrow fly.
There was a moment of stunned silence, followed by polite applause led by the man beside her. She had scored a perfect hit in the center of the target, besting every man present. Her parents would be furious.
"A lucky shot, though impressive, Miss Montague," remarked Victor Winthrop, Viscount Carlyle. Since she was not an official competitor, he had still won the day, but Caroline was pleased to wipe the smug look off his face.
"Luck had nothing to do with it, my lord." She curtsied to the company gathered on her father's lawn and tried to smile demurely-a feat more challenging than any archery contest.
These men were here with one purpose: to win her hand in marriage. She was on sale to the highest bidder to cover her father's mounting debts. But damn them all if they thought she would be an easy prize.
Caroline handed her bow to a nearby footman and took up the trophy Carlyle had won, a golden bowl inscribed with the image of Venus rising from the waves, an object of art her father had liberated during the Italian campaign against Napoleon.
"Forgive my impudence, gentlemen. I can never resist a target when it presents itself." The men around her chuckled.
"To the man of the hour, Lord Carlyle. May his arrow always fly swift and far, and may his aim improve," Caroline said.
She grinned, meeting the earl's blue eyes as she handed him the golden bowl. His gaze shifted from the curve of her breasts to her face, and he gave her a rueful smile. All the men had spent that morning eyeing her curves. Carlyle was the first man to stare so openly, and to laugh at himself afterward. She laughed with him, not knowing that the eyes of her husband-to-be lingered on her even then, and on the man who stood beside her.
Anthony Carrington, the Earl of Ravensbrook, his face as forbidding as stone, stared at the man who would become his father-in-law. Only his great respect for Baron Montague on the field of battle kept him in the room at all. "I have never seen such blatant disregard for a woman's place in the world. To take up arms among men, to best a suitor with a bow, even a man like Carlyle, is unseemly."
Even his own mistress, Angelique, an experienced woman of the world, would never be so brazen.
"Ravensbrook, consider," Lord Montague said. "My daughter is very young."
"All the more reason she should smile and obey, not humiliate the men around her."
Lord Montague sighed. "I am the first to admit she is spoiled. And headstrong. After my last son died, she has been the light of my life."
Anthony heard the sorrow in his old friend's voice and left the rest of his protest unspoken. He fingered the marriage contract that lay on the mahogany table in front of him. He had ridden for four days straight with a special license from London, so the banns would not have to be read. He could marry Caroline within the week and return to Shropshire to beget an heir, and his old friend's debts would be paid with honor. Every detail of his marriage to Montague's daughter was in order. Everything but the girl.
"Her mother warned me of this, time and time again, but I did not listen," Montague said. "I have been so long on the Continent that Caroline has grown up beyond my reach, without a father's hand to guide her. You must teach her, my lord. I have seen you take a battlefield in less than...