Castle Yates, Yorkshire, September 1871
“How does one choose a wife?” Gerard, Earl of Ives and Wystan gazed upon the choicest maidens in northern England waltzing about in acres of colorful silk and lace. Castle Yates wasn’t London, by any means, but the duke’s dazzling ballroom sported the same hazards for a man avoiding matrimony.
His friend, unfortunately, could no longer avoid it.
“Amenable disposition, I suppose.” Jasper, Marquess of Rainford, resplendent in his usual tailored aloofness, frowned at the buffet of femininity imported just for his selection. “Beauty doesn’t last. A modicum of intelligence would be pleasing.”
Having given up his mistress some months past for lack of funds, Gerard was studying the vast array of non-virginal chaperones. “It’s a shame we can’t test for enthusiasm in bedplay.”
That response produced an unrefined snort from the normally proper Rainford. “I suppose I could look among widows if intercourse mattered for more than the production of heirs. But I’m fairly certain my father did not invite the impure for my selection. He wants an heir of his own blood, however unstable that blood might be.”
Gerard hid a wince. The duke’s clan had a strong strain of what must be called eccentric, even more so than the usual Malcolm family aberrations. Concealing his own weirdness was difficult enough, but Gerard hadn’t the wealth to take it to extremes, as Rainford’s family did.
He juggled the medallion in his pocket, the one that whispered to him of treasure to be found at Wystan. “At least you don’t have to choose a wife for her fortune. If I’m to keep Wystan, I’ll have to find gold or marry a bank account.”
Should he ever make the mistake of mentioning that he was listening to treasure-seeking voices in coins, any income from a political future was doomed—as well as any chance of marrying wealth.
Thankfully, he didn’t actually see spirits. He simply heard them speak when he touched a propitious object.
As a scientific, logical man of the world, he had too much cynicism to believe legions of penniless Ives would have overlooked any treasure buried in Wystan.
But beneath his pessimism lurked a flicker of hope. What if he was actually hearing the spirit of an ancient Roman who may have buried treasure on his estate? Even a small store of coins might stave off the decision between marrying for wealth or heaving his female relations from a crumbling castle he could no longer maintain.
The spirit voices had been correct, if less than useful, in the past. He’d learned his lesson as a lad when he’d told his hosts they had a body buried in the cellar. Hysteria and skeletons only achieved notoriety. These days, Gerard favored tactful diplomacy and kept the voices to himself.
Until these past weeks, he’d never had an artifact mention buried treasure. He feared it might be his desperation speaking.
“Marry, invest your wife’s fortune in improving Wystan’s assets, and you’ll have wealth enough to live on,” said the lord with more gold than Croesus and the imagination of an accountant.
Gerard shrugged. “I’ll inherit the marquisate one day. My future is fated. Before I must retire to dry responsibility for a few dozen intractable Ives and their families, I’d rather not tie myself down to one woman.”
“And you want to see sunny climes and foreign maidens,” Rainford added knowingly.
Well, yes, Gerard had always wanted to take his gift and explore real Roman ruins in Italy, but his pockets had always been to let.
He retaliated by pounding the slender marquess on the back. “And you’re procrastinating on joining the assembly where all those mamas are regarding you hungrily, and the demure maidens your father has chosen are surreptitiously watching you from under their lashes, judging you as husband material. Go forth and match-make.”
“You should do the same, if funding is what you need. My father invited the wealthiest, most respectable damsels to be found in this part of the kingdom.”
“On the theory that London ladies would not wish to languish in rural Yorkshire, even if this estate is large enough for a small town?”
“On the theory that I have rejected everyone in the south. You take the right hand side. I’ll take the left. We’ll see if we find any likely prospects and meet in the middle.” Rainford stalked off.
Thanking all that was holy that his own father wasn’t pushing for an heir since the family had more relations than the marquess could afford already, Gerard ignored the young lovelies and aimed for Lady Alice, a widowed chaperone. He’d known Alice since infancy. She had a wicked tongue, a prosperous father, and put the merry in merry widow. She’d be better sport than simpering virgins.