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Four young ladies enter London society with one common goal: they must use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband.So a daring husband-hunting scheme is born.
Annabelle Peyton, determined to save her family from disaster, decides to use her beauty and wit to tempt a suitable nobleman into making an offer of marriage. But Annabelle's most intriguing -- and persistent -- admirer, wealthy, powerful Simon Hunt, has made it clear that while he will introduce her to irresistible pleasure he will not offer marriage. Annabelle is determined to resist his unthinkable proposition ... but it is impossible in the face of such skillful seduction.
Her friends, looking to help, conspire to entice a more suitable gentleman to offer for Annabelle, for only then will she be safe from Simon -- and her own longings. But on one summer night, Annabelle succumbs to Simon's passionate embrace and tempting kisses ... and she discovers that love is the most dangerous game of all.
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A marriage-minded girl could overcome practically any obstacle, except the lack of a dowry.
Annabelle swung her foot impatiently beneath the frothy white mass of her skirts while she kept her expression composed. During her past three failed seasons, she had become accustomed to being a wall-flower. Accustomed, but not resigned. More than once it had occurred to her that she deserved far better than to sit at the side of the room in a spindly chair. Hoping, hoping, hoping, for an invitation that would never come. And trying to pretend that she didn't care -- that she was perfectly happy to be watching others dancing and being courted.
Letting out a long sigh, Annabelle fiddled with the tiny silver dance card that hung from a ribbon on her wrist. The cover slid open to reveal a book of neartranslucent ivory leaves that spread out in a fan. A girl was supposed to pencil the names of her dance partners on those delicate slips of ivory. To Annabelle, the fan of empty cards seemed to resemble a row of teeth, grinning at her mockingly. Snapping the silver case shut, she glanced at the three girls who sat next to her, all endeavoring to look similarly unconcerned with their fates.
She knew exactly why they were there. Miss Evangeline Jenner's considerable family fortune had been made from gambling, and her origins were common. Moreover, Miss Jenner was painfully shy and possessed a stutter, which made the prospect of conversation a session of torture for both participants.
The other two girls, Miss Lillian Bowman, and her younger sister Daisy, had not yet become acclimated to England -- and from the looks of things, it would take them a long time. It was said that the Bowmans' mother had brought the girls from New York because they hadn't been able to get any suitable offers there. The soap bubble heiresses, they were mockingly referred to, or occasionally, the dollar princesses. Despite their elegantly angled cheekbones and tip-tilted dark eyes, they would find no better luck here unless they could find an aristocratic sponsor to vouch for them and teach them how to fit in with British society.
It occurred to Annabelle that in the past few months of this miserable season, the four of themherself, Miss Jenner, and the Bowmanshad often sat together at balls or soirees, always in the corner or against the wall. And yet they had rarely spoken to each other, trapped in the silent tedium of waiting. Her gaze caught that of Lillian Bowman, whose velvety dark eyes contained an unexpected gleam of humor.
"At least they could have made the chairs more comfortable," Lillian murmured, "when it's obvious that we're going to occupy them all evening."
"We should have our names engraved on them," Annabelle replied wryly. "After all the time I've spent in it, I own this chair."
A muffled giggle came from Evangeline Jenner, who lifted a gloved finger to push back a vivid red curl that had fallen over her forehead. The smile made her round blue eyes sparkle and her cheeks turn pink beneath a scattering of gold freckles. It seemed that a sudden sense of kinship had temporarily caused her to forget her shyness. "It m-makes no sense that you're a wallflower," she told Annabelle. "You're the most beautiful girl here -- men should be f-falling all over themselves to dance with you."
Annabelle lifted her shoulder in a graceful half shrug. "No one wants to marry a girl without a dowry." It was only in the fantasy realm of novels that dukes could marry poor girls. In reality, dukes and viscounts and the like were burdened with the massive fi- nancial responsibility of maintaining large estates and extended families, and helping the tenantry.
Secrets of a Summer NightBy: Lisa Kleypas