The Marriage Wager

Free The Marriage Wager by Jane Ashford

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Authors: Jane Ashford
rather homely face and transforming it into warmly attractive lines.
    The small group began riding along the path, one eye out for pretty girls strolling the lawns or in carriages, the other evaluating the men they passed, judging their own style and manner against those of the leaders of society.
    “Say,” said Jack after a while. “I nearly forgot. Appears felicitations are in order.”
    There were murmurs among the others, and Robin found they were all looking at him. “What?” he said.
    “Odd part of it is, I didn’t know you had a sister,” complained Jack. “I mean, I think a fellow would mention a thing like that. You know very well that I’ve got two.”
    “What are you talking about?” asked Robin.
    “You’ve met them,” Jack continued accusingly. “That time you stayed with us for the hunting? Played silver loo with Amelia.”
    “Jack,” said Robin.
    “All these years, and not a word about a sister,” his friend marveled. “I can’t understand it.”
    “Jack, what are you talking about?” demanded Robin through clenched teeth.
    “Sister’s engagement,” replied Jack, as if it must be obvious. “Saw it in the paper this morning.”
    “My sister? You must be mistaken.”
    “It was in there, plain as day. Wasn’t it, fellows?”
    The others agreed.
    “But… but…” Robin stammered over his father’s long-standing orders that he was never to mention Emma. “My sister’s abroad,” he settled on finally.
    Jack looked at him kindly. “Can’t be, if she’s going to marry St. Mawr, can she?”
    “St. Mawr?” The baron’s questions came back to Robin, and his forgiveness of a large debt in exchange for answers. A frown settled over his handsome features. Something very queer was going on here, he thought.
    “Good match,” said another of the group laconically.
    “Good?” said Jack Ripton. “It’s beyond good. My mother would have crawled down Bond Street on her knees to get St. Mawr for Amelia. Fellow’s got fortune, family, position. Girls have been setting their caps for him in droves.” He contemplated this interesting position, wondering what it would feel like to have all the prettiest debs giving him the eye. Then he remembered his grievance. “But Robin,” he continued, “why’ve you kept mum about your sister? She must be a diamond of the first water to have caught St. Mawr. Might have given the rest of us a chance, you know.”
    “She’s a good deal older,” offered Bellingham, knowing the excuse was lame. His father might have said something, he thought bitterly, prepared him a bit. It was no wonder the old man had been so pleased with himself this morning, if this was really true.
    “Older. Abroad. We’re making scant headway with this mystery.” Jack Ripton shook his head. “Come now, Robin. We’re all friends here.”
    What had happened to Edward Tarrant? Robin wondered silently. How had Emma ended up at Barbara Rampling’s house, where few respectable ladies went? And why had St. Mawr engaged himself to her? It was beyond unexpected; it was an incredible match.
    “One good thing, you might get a hand with your debts,” Jack went on. “I hear St. Mawr’s a pleasant fellow. All the go, too. I daresay he might advance you a few hundred, and your father can stick his head in a bucket.”
    There was general laughter. All of the young men were familiar with Robin’s troubles with his father. Universally, they characterized him as a tightfisted old killjoy.
    For a moment, Robin was distracted by his own problems. His father seemed to have no conception of what it cost to be on the town these days. One needed the proper rig-out and some blood cattle to drive, which was dashed expensive. Most of all, a man had to show himself ready to play the tables or wager something on a race. He couldn’t be always drawing back because of a few losses. He certainly could not tell anyone he was forbidden to gamble by his father. Might as well say he was still in

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