Eight Rules For Engagement (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 8)
Eight Rules For Engagement (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 8)
Who knew unearthing the mysteries of the past could be so scintillating?
Husband hunting was far from Odette Marsden's mind. She had much more important pursuits, like discovering Selbourn Castle's ancient secrets and making a name for herself as an antiquarian in a male-dominated world, but she couldn't refuse a house party given in her honor.
Leopold Seyburn was on his way to becoming one of Englands premier antiquarians, but before leaving on his next quest, he wanted to enjoy a relaxing house party at the invitation of an old friend. Or so he thought. Now he's stuck in a castle with nine marriage-minded women, except one. Odette Marsden is more interested in his antiquarian expertise than his bachelor status.
Dark tunnels, secret passages, damp caves. The closer they come to Selbourne's secrets, the more Odette's own hidden desires come to light. But marriage between them would never work, she'd be left behind while he traveled the world, and Odette fears that as his wife, she'd live in the shadows of his accomplishments and never be respected for her own.
Can Odette and Leo bridge the gap between love and ambition or is happily ever after one treasure they won't be able to find?
The Northumberland Nine series is a late Regency period Historical Romance series featuring nine sisters and nine aristocratic gentlemen. This large series features popular romance tropes such as second chances, a secret baby, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, secret romance, a secret marriage, strong heroines, and noble rogues that will leave you ready to fall in love.
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House party at Selbourne Castle August 9, 1825
Odette twisted the fan in her hands as she followed her sisters into the Queen's drawing room. They were a cloud of Marsdens, all nine of them, beginning with the oldest, Annette, then Bernadette, Georgette, Jeanette, Josette, Lunette, Nicolette, herself, and Willette, following behind her. They clustered together like little chicks, the new duchess acting as their mother hen and ushering them into a world far more elegant and mysterious than they had ever experienced before.
Over the last four months, Odette had been to castle Selbourne many times. The dowager duchess regularly invited them to tea, which occurred once a week. Now that Weirick was the duke and had married Violet four months ago, the duchess refused to return to the London residence.
Hoping for a grandchild, Odette surmised. But in the meantime, the two duchesses had orchestrated a grand scheme to match the infamous Northumberland Nine. As one of those nine, Odette was not amused, but under threat of flogging from her mother, she was forced to participate in this ridiculous house party.
Odette had far grander plans than marriage. She had no use for a husband, wealthy or not. But her sisters did. With no son to inherit their father’s meager estate, their cousin Irving would swoop in like an albatross and toss them out of their home. So before that fateful day, at least one of them would have to marry a wealthy gentleman to save them all.
The dowager duchess and the new duchess had concocted a plan to introduce all nine of the Marsden daughters to nine eligible gentlemen, in the hopes that at least one of them could make a marriage match.
Odette knew it wouldn't be her. At nineteen, she should feel the insistent pressure to marry, to find a home of her own and secure the protection of a husband. But Odette had greater dreams that might begin at this very party.
She sucked in a breath as they entered. The gentlemen ambled about the room in fine crisp white cravats, silk waistcoats, and blinking gold cuffs on their sleeves. Nothing Odette hadn't seen before. She'd gotten used to such finery over the years, living between two fine houses, Selbourne Castle and Kirkland Manor. They’d formed a close relationship with the duke, Weirick, and his younger brother Roderick. She wasn't interested in fancy gentlemen, but there was one here who fascinated her. A man who had done more than just look pretty in a ballroom. She'd read about him in the papers, cut clippings and read more books than she could count about the places he'd gone, the things he’d discovered. But tucked away in Northumberland, she had no way to access him or the treasures he’d brought back to England to display in the museums. History that was lost until he found it.
Her heart beat hard. She carefully scanned the faces. All she had to identify him by was a comical cartoon of a man wrestling a mummy. Sure, they painted him up nice and handsome with bulging muscles and an aristocratic nose—he was the fourth son of the Marquess of Clarence, after all. But Odette knew those images could be terribly false. His cartoon character was black and white, so she had no idea about hair or eye color.
The papers never included those details. He was a young man, well on his way to becoming a famous archaeological explorer at the age of eight and twenty. She didn't know why, but that gave her such hope.
How could she ever expect to achieve the same things? She was only a poor girl from Northumberland. Even though she'd rifled through the history of her home, and there were a great many things of interest here, especially involving the ruins of Castle Selbourne, no one cared but her. Violet began to make introductions, and Odette, not wanting to look like a nervous ninny, put her trembling hands behind her back and continued to twist her fan until her fingers ached.
Violet moved to a young man, younger than the others but not by much. He was a strapping fellow, in Odette's opinion, with sandy blond hair and peculiar gray eyes.
“Mr. Seyburn, I introduce to you Miss Marsden, Miss Bernadette, Miss Georgette…”
Odette’s ears felt stuffed with cotton. Her mouth popped open while the duchess listed their names, but Odette couldn’t hear her anymore over the thrash of her pulse in her ears. She couldn't breathe.
That was him?
Mr. Leopold Seyburn.
He didn't look like a Leopold. It must be an old family name, a relic passed down to sons, but my—oh my, he was handsome. So very attractive and he did not look like a rough-and-tumble explorer. He resembled any other gentlemen, only his face had a bit more color—suntanned, she imagined, from spending hours in the sun, digging up interesting things.
The pounding of her pulse in her ears reminded her she needed to do something to continue living.
Breathing would be good. Inhaling would appear normal to this beautiful man, whose gaze was about to move to her as he greeted each sister. She shook herself free from the stranglehold of her nerves. She could not be like this if she wanted to be his equal someday. If she wanted to command the respect of men, she had to be braver than she was right now.
He’s just a man.
A man who had connections, a man who did the things she always wanted to do. Things she could only dream of doing. Odette had to make him a friend and ally. She slowly drew in a breath, and their eyes met.
Heat washed over her skin, a traitorous blush filling her cheeks that she could not hide. His gray eyes had streaks of white and silver, like lightning. She'd never seen anything like it.
His polite smile twitched. “How do you do, Miss Odette?”
“I am very well, thank you. I've been waiting to meet you, sir.”
He raised a brow. “You have?”
“I have a distinct interest in antiquary and the recovery of lost history.”
He cocked his head. “Really?”
She nodded, her excitement overwhelming her nerves. She was talking to him. She was really doing it, and he looked almost interested in her actual opinion.
“I'm sure you hear this every day, but I find what you do vastly exciting, and I wish—I wish I could be like you,” she blurted. Inside she winced. What a terrible thing to say. Something a child would say. Unprofessional. And she wanted to be seen as a professional, damn it all. She bit back the curse.
He straightened. “I look forward to our future conversations,” he said, and then he moved on to greet Willa.
Odette exhaled. Nic, her twin, nudged her arm. They went to find seats and meet more of the gentlemen. Odette went through the motions. She didn't care about anyone else. It was Mr. Seyburn that she needed to speak to, Mr. Seyburn that she needed to impress with her knowledge.
Perhaps she could show him the ruins or the old ledger she’d found about the graves that were excavated and moved to another location. There was also all the legends and lore about the hidden passages in the castle. She'd once found a journal, which had been buried, barely readable, and eventually the pages had disintegrated before she could find any true meaning in the passages regarding secret tunnels. But there was something there that alluded to mysteries about the castle, and perhaps he could help her find it. If they made a discovery together, then she could prove her mettle, and he could help her into the next phase. Her dream of becoming a recognized antiquary and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Odette exhaled and then blinked, completely unaware of her surroundings. She was still in the Queen’s drawing room, and everywhere around her people talked. The introductions were over, and here she was sitting beside her twin, not speaking to anyone, utterly obsessed with a man who probably thought she was a bit mad. Odette needed to think about what she could do next to charm him.
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