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The Engagement "Preview"
by Kimberley Comeaux
© Copyright 2004    ISBN - 1-59310-125-2

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 (Note: this is a pre-edited version, so there may be
some mistakes.  As soon as I locate my edited version, I'll upload that one or retype it from the book :-) )  Enjoy!

Chapter One

 “Is it just me, or do you find these dinner parties dreadfully dull?”

     “I, too, share the sentiment but then again I find many things dull.  You on the other hand, have a better excuse than I,” Trevor Kent, the Duke of Northingshire answered his friend as they watched the guests who were in attendance at the Beckingham’s party.  “I don’t imagine you can compare adventure on the high seas and your escapade with pirates, with our monotonous English society and their dreary little efforts at entertainment.”

     Lord Thomas Thornton gave North, as the duke was known to his friends, a sardonic grin.  “You could not be further from the truth.  I didn’t like dinner parties even before my ‘adventure’, as you call it, and I will die a happy man if I never get on another boat,” he informed him before adding, “And it was a merchant ship that rescued me, by the by.”

“Yes, but let’s keep that between us, eh? The story sounds so much more thrilling to add the pirates.”

Thomas chuckled. “If it had been pirates, I might have been the dead man everyone thought I was!”

     Thomas and North shared a sobering glance.  “Indeed.  God must surely smile on all the Thornton’s, since both you and your brother have truly been blessed this past year.”

     Thomas agreed.  “If only He would also bless me with a wife like he bestowed upon my dear brother.”  He smiled, as he referred to new sister-in-law, Christina, who was also the vicar’s daughter in his hometown of Malbury. That smile dimmed a little as his thoughts turned to his past. “Dear Anne, my late wife, was a good woman and gave me a wonderful son.  Perhaps I have no right to want more.”

     “Of course, you have a right.  Which is why you have dragged me to this ‘dreadfully dull’ affair, or have you forgotten?  We must endure such events to find you a wife and a mother for young Tyler,” North stated matter-of-factly, referring to Thomas’s one and a half year old son.  “Now, tell me which young miss has caught your eye, and I’ll see to the introduction.”

     Thomas made a show of scanning the room.  “There, unfortunately, lies my problem.  They are all very nice and most comely to look at, but…” his voice drifted off, as he was unable to put his feelings to words.

     “Mmm,” North sounded with a nod, as if he wholly understood.  “I know what you mean.  You are looking for what I’ve sought after for quite some time – someone who is original.”


     “Someone who is pretty, yet doesn’t look like all the rest.”


     “She must be easy to talk to, and not bore you with relentless chattering about fashions or gossip about the neighbors,” North listed.


     “And above all, she must be loyal, loving and kind!”

     “Here, here!”

     There was a moment of silence, as they both paused to think about what was just said.  Suddenly they looked at each other and began to laugh. 

     “I believe I just described my dog,” North sputtered in between laughs.

     Thomas wiped the moisture from his eyes.  “I was thinking of my horse!”

     It took a few moments for both men to regain control.  By then, the whole room was staring at them with curiosity and censure, the later, of course, from the older set.

     “I believe we have drawn enough attention to ourselves, this evening.  Perhaps we should say our goodbyes to our host.”

     Thomas nodded in agreement.  “Indeed.  I do not think that I shall find my bride among this crowd, anyway.  Perhaps I should take a page from my brother, and start attending services in various churches across the shire.  There could be another vicar’s daughter like my brother’s wife, out there… somewhere.”

     North grinned.  “Or you could forgo your loathing of the sea travel and go with me back to America.  My cousin and I have established a sugar plantation near the city of New Orleans and I was supposed to go and see how he is faring this last year, but there was still a war going on.  Now that it seems to be over, I shall leave in just a few months.”

     “I think I’ve seen enough of North America.  We were docked in some little Canadian harbor for two months and I was extremely glad to leave.”  Thomas answered with a shudder.  “If I cannot find a bride on English soil, then I shall remain a single man.”

     “Well, if you…” North’s sentence drifted to a halt when they both noticed that the room had become extremely quiet.  They looked to see all eyes had turned towards the door.

     The woman, who stood at the entrance to the hall, was even more beautiful than the last time Thomas had seen her.  Her beautiful gold hair curled artfully about her face while the length of it was pinned atop her head and cascaded in tiny curls down the back.  Even from where he stood, he could see the smoothness of her cheeks, the arch of her light brows and the glow from her incredible golden eyes.  Her dress was the color of bright copper, with delicate beaded lace at her neck and high waistline.

     But there was definitely something different about her from the last they’d met. No longer was there an enchanting smile on her face or a confidence in her stance as it had once been.  Instead, there was a wariness in her eyes, a brave tilt to her proud chin, and a challenged air to the way she stood, as if she were readying herself for an assault.

     Even so, she was magnificent to look upon.  Her presence seemed to outshine all other ladies around her.  Under any other circumstances, Thomas would have had no reluctance about rushing up to reacquaint himself to her.  Perhaps even pursue her, for she was exactly what he wished for in a wife and more.

     But Lady Katherine Montbatten could not be his – would probably laugh in his face if he even suggested a match between them.  No.  She probably hated the very mention of the Thornton name.  And he didn’t blame her.

     Katherine had almost been his sister-in-law.

     When his brother, Nicholas, the Earl of Kenswick, returned from the war, he’d been wounded and bitter from all that he’d seen and done during the battles.  In his confused and anxious state, he’d broken his betrothal just months before the wedding and conducted himself in a manner that no gentleman his station should behave.  During this time, their father had died, and then Nicholas had thought that Thomas was lost to him also.  With the help of Christina, the vicar’s daughter, he’d come to realize that he needed God’s help and forgiveness.  Since then he’d completely changed and settled down to family life at Kenswick Hall with his new bride.

     But that didn’t change the fact that Katherine had been hurt by the whole affair.

     As the crowd around them started to move about them and resume their chatter, he watched as she tried to smile while greeting their hosts for the party, Lord and Lady Beckingham.  She tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, but clearly something was.

     And Thomas had a horrible feeling that he knew the reason.  “She has been ostracized by the ton,” he murmured, hoping that he was not correct in his summation.

     “Not entirely,” North corrected.  “Only by the marriageable bachelors of the ton.  Of course there are always those who would have other propositions for her, but thankfully she has her family to support her.”

     Thomas grimaced.  “Does Nicholas know?”

     North nodded.  “He does, and has repeatedly offered to make amends in providing her father money to add to her dowry, but was refused.”  He sighed.  “The Montbatten’s are nearly as rich as your family, so of course, money is not the problem.”

     Thomas once again studied her brave features as she pasted on a smile and greeted those around her.  “Why the censure?  There have been other’s who have suffered a broken engagement with little repercussions.”

     “Apparently, some idiot started a rumor after Katherine declined his offer to dance at a ball.  From there, the lie grew bigger and before it was all done, it sounded as if one of your brother’s duels he fought had been over Katherine’s honor.”  He shook his head distastefully.  “Or lack there of.”

     They were quiet for a moment, both watching her from where they stood at the back of the room.  “She is beautiful,” Thomas murmured, voicing his thoughts.

     “Beautiful, but cold,” the duke stated bluntly.  “She was always aware of her beauty, Thomas, and in my opinion, over confident in the fact that many adored her.  I always knew that she wasn’t the one for your brother, I was just sorry he ended it so badly.”

     Thomas knew all this, since he’d been acquainted with her before he was married.  But he’d always felt that her coolness was a façade, almost as if she were afraid to show who she really was.  He would see flashes of wit and intelligence before it was quickly banked beneath a serene smile and cultured conversation.

     “It would seem that her confidence has taken quite a blow,” he finally commented.

     North, already apparently bored with the conversation, just shrugged.  “I would not doubt it.”  He tugged at lapel.  “Well, I’ve had enough of this scene.  Would you like to leave, now?”

     “I believe, I have changed my mind, after all,” he answered, his eyes still on Katherine.

     There was a moment of silence from his friend and when Thomas looked at him, there was speculation and a little worry in his eyes.  Thomas knew that North wanted to say something more, but he only nodded and responded, “I will fetch us more punch then.”

     He barely noticed North’s departure for he was already scanning the crowd once more for the beautiful blond.

     He was stunned to find her golden eyes had found him first.  For a moment, there seemed to be several unreadable emotions that passed over her face as she gazed at him.  Thomas was sure her next movement would be to look away from him in disgust since she realized who he was.

     But she didn’t.

     Suddenly she smiled at him and the confusing emotions that had been swirling in her eyes were gone.  Thomas felt that smile all the way down to the pit of his stomach and for a moment he didn’t take one breath, so stunned was he of her reaction.

     Thomas was afraid to even think of how he felt as she began to make her way to him.  He didn’t dare speculate on what this could mean.  He refused to have expectations.

     Yet…He could not help but hope.




     All afternoon, Lady Katherine Montbatten, the eldest daughter of the Duke of Ravenhurst, had meticulously plotted her revenge.  With help and much coaching from her cousin, Theodora, they derived the perfect way to go about executing their plan – the plan that would vindicate both her and her family and teach the Thornton’s a much needed lesson.

     Of course, Katherine had initial doubts about using Nicholas Thornton’s brother Thomas, to do the deed, but Theodora convinced her that Thomas must have had a hand in convincing Nicholas to break their engagement.  And besides, what was done to her reputation hurt not only herself, but also her parents and her siblings.  It was only fair that the whole Thornton clan suffered as well.

     For over a year, Katherine had had to suffer through humiliation after humiliation as more rumors and speculation spread about her.  Slowly she began to notice that all the offers for her hand had been rescinded and all her admirers had fallen away.  Even her brother Cameron had striven to correct the false assumptions about her character, but he’d been able to do much good. 

     The horrible rumors just would not die and she was ruined for it.

     And then Theodora had told her about Thomas Thornton returning to society after he’d been thought dead and how, as a widower, he would soon be in need of a wife.

     From there, they plotted and schemed on the steps they should take.  Even though she doubted and wanted to give the whole plan up, Theodora was there cheering her on, telling her that she would feel so much better once revenge was theirs.

     Now as they stood on the threshold of Beckingham Hall, she once again was plagued with doubts.  There was still a part of her that knew what she was about to do was wrong.  It was the same part that spoke to her through Sunday sermons from the vicar and nagged at her when she tried to read her Bible.  The last time she’d opened her Bible, the scripture in Romans leaped out at her, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  But Theodora had convinced her that, in this instance, God surely understood.

     And to make sure, she had no more doubts on that score, Katherine had put away her Bible and refused to bring it out until all of this was over.

     She wasn’t sure that God understood at all, otherwise why would she be plagued with so much guilt?

     But tonight there was no going back.  They had arrived, and already she had noticed that, indeed, Thomas was in attendance at the party.

     She was just not prepared for the effect that his presence would have on her.  She was certainly not prepared for the memories of how fond she had been of him or how truly nice he’d been during her engagement, to flood her mind and heart.  She’d forgotten how nice his dark brown hair complimented those Thornton blue eyes or how his strong manly features, could melt the strongest of female hearts.

     He did favor his brother, but in many ways he was nothing like Nicholas.

Unfortunately, she had hoped that he would be.

How could she forget that he’d always been so nice and kind to her?  His ready smile could always lift her spirits and his low smooth voice would make her feel warm and welcome.

I can’t do this, she thought in a panic.  He doesn’t deserve what I’m going to do to him!

With alarm, she grabbed Theodora’s arm.  “This will not work!” she whispered harshly in her cousin’s ear.  “We have to leave.  Now!”

“No!” Theodora answered back, while she continued to walk toward their hosts.  “It is all planned.  There is no backing away from it!”

“Lady Montbatten!  We are delighted that you could come,” Lady Beckingham greeted warmly, forcing Katherine to walk forward into the room.

She swallowed hard and pasted on a smile.  Nodding to her hosts she answered, “Lord and Lady Beckingham, may I introduce you to my cousin, Miss Theodora Vine.”

Introductions and greetings were made and finally she and Theodora were once again, alone.  “Theodora, please.  I remember Thomas now that I have seen him.  He is too nice – too good of a man to have this done to him!” Katherine pleaded, once again.

Theodora, turned and gave her a stern look  - a look that she did well since she stood so tall and had a long hawkish nose to gaze down from.  “Think, Katherine!  Think of how humiliated you have felt for all these months.  Think of how Nicholas Thornton has been happy in his grand estate with his new wife, while you’ve been alone with no prospects.  Just think, dear, of how the men in the room looked at you when you walked in tonight.”  She smiled cunningly.  “Why they were almost sneering at you, Kathy.  You, who were once declared the “original” of the entire ton!  You cannot let this humiliation go unpunished. Can you?”

Once again all those hurt and bitter feelings flooded her mind.  Indeed, she had noticed how they gawked at her tonight, but she tried not to dwell on it.  But as she looked around the room, she could not let go of the truth of her circumstance.

She was ruined and never would her reputation be spotless again.

And it was all thanks to the Nicholas Thornton.  And if Theodora was correct, his brother was not completely innocent, either.

Somebody had to pay.  Vengeance had to be taken on some level.

She looked to the back of the room and once again her golden gaze lit on the handsome man standing beside the Duke of Northingshire. 

“See how he does not seem to have a care in the world?” Theodora whispered softly in her ear.  “He does not have to worry what people are saying when he enters a room.  He does not lay awake at night crying over his fate and how unfair his life has become.”

“You’re right,” she replied resolutely as she studied his impeccable black suit with his snow-white cravat tied neatly at his throat.  He and his brother were surely cut from the same cloth!  Of course, Thomas would have known about Nicholas breaking their engagement.  He did nothing to stop his brother and perhaps even had a hand in the decision.  “Tonight, our plan shall begin,” she murmured more to herself.

Suddenly, his eyes turned and she was caught looking at him.  For a moment, all her doubts surfaced once again.  For a moment, she nearly turned around and ran out of the room.  But the hurt and anger that was stirring in her heart made her stay right where she was.

She refused to wonder why her heart seemed to pound so as his beautiful eyes looked into her own.  She did not dare contemplate how handsome he was and how stately he appeared standing there against the dark blue wall of the room.  She would not dare let herself believe that she was attracted to the very man she had vowed to ruin by securing his affections, making him think she wanted to be his wife, and then leave him at the alter.

Tonight her honor would begin to be avenged.

Tonight Thomas Thornton would regret the day he ever met her.

With a slow curve of her lips, she smiled at him and began to walk his direction.

The plan was in motion.  There was no backing out now.


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written by: Kimberley Comeaux © 1997 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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