An Unlikely Alliance
An Unlikely Alliance
by Rachel Van Dyken
Published by Astraea Press
Copyright © 2012 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
AN UNLIKELY ALLIANCE
Copyright © 2012 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art Designed by Elaina Lee
Edited by Em Petrova
To my mom and dad, who provide so much support and encouragement! I love you guys so much!
Evelyn De Jarlias sighed as the sun set over the horizon. Two more days until her twenty-first birthday and what did she have to show for it? Looking down at her hands only made the thought more depressing. Dirt caked around the insides of her nails. After a long, hard day working on the farm, all she needed was another reminder that there were no available gentlemen in the area, and even if there were—hers would not be the first door they would beat down.
She walked to the edge of the pond and let the pins out of her hair. The thick, cornflower-white tendrils hung down to the middle of her back—it was her crowning glory. Not that her face was ugly by any means. It was just extremely tanned, showing everyone within a safe distance she was middle class.
Growing up, she had always dreamed of a bigger future. A glamorous future with beautiful dresses and dancing. Lots and lots of dancing.
Her reality stared back at her through the reflection in the water. A working girl covered in dirt, no money in her pockets, no prospects, and certainly no future.
"Evelyn! Evelyn!" The sound of her father's voice shook the melancholy from her. Stuart De Jarlias was a hard-working man. Never once putting himself before anyone else. Always trying to make her life better than it was. For that she loved him and was grateful for his love, especially since it was just the two of them. Her mother had died while she was still quite young, leaving them with a giant hole in the family which would and could never be filled.
"Yes, Daddy?" The question hung in the air.
"Evelyn!" He yelled even louder. His head finally showed over the little hill he came from. "Evelyn!" His face was covered in a mixture of dirt and water, caking mud in the wrinkles around his eyes. Oh Lord, what had happened? Had the moonshine exploded? Was he okay? He stumbled towards her; were those tears in his eyes?
"Daddy!" She ran to him, tripping over her skirts as she finally reached him. Scrambling, she pulled his face into a closer view and panicked. "What's wrong, Daddy? Are you hurt?"
Then her father did the most ridiculous thing imaginable. He laughed.
And laughed until she thought he stopped breathing.
"Daddy!" She stomped her foot. "Stop that right now! What's wrong with you?"
"We're rich, Babydoll. We're saved!" Babydoll was her daddy's nickname for her. He also called her Sugar and Cupcake, but Babydoll was her favorite. It took her back to the time when her mama was alive. When things were simpler and happier. Frustrated, she closed her eyes and tried a new tactic.
"I don't understand, Daddy. Have you been drinking your own moonshine again?"
He shook his head, tears still streaming down his grimy black face. "No, Babydoll. No moonshine! We're rich! A British lord has offered to buy all of our acreage! And for fifty times what we purchased it for!"
That day Evelyn's life changed forever.
Royce McArthur swore as another glass of champagne went flying by his face. "What was that for?" he yelled, just as the glass shattered into a million tiny pieces next to his polished boot.
"Stop pretending that you don't know!" Sheila screamed, picking up another glass.
"I can explain!" He started looking for exits.
"Explain?" she wailed, closing her eyes. "Explain this!" A piece of cutlery nearly nicked him in the shin as it whizzed past him and stuck in the nearby wall.
This was not going well. It was impossible to know just what she was so upset about. One minute he had been having a nice drink of whiskey with his brothers, and then next thing he knew, glassware was flying dangerously close to his face at alarming speeds.
Can't live with them, and in his current state, he definitely wanted to live without them. What good were they anyway? It wasn't as if he was in dire need to marry anytime soon, which was why he took his pleasures wherever he could find them. Sheila was the last choice he had made in that department, albeit a poor one. Yes, if he had thought about his actions, he might have foreseen this happening. She was prone to jealousy more than his other mistresses had been. Hence the need for violence.
He racked his brain, trying to think of some way to calm her down. What could she possibly be so upset about?
And then, as another plate darted past his head, it hit him. The thought, not the plate.
She knew about Constance, his ex-mistress who had just returned from Boston. The mistress he had spent the night with after canceling on Sheila. The same mistress.
"Perfect," he huffed as another woman barged into the room.
"Ah, Constance, lovely to see you." He tried to approach her, but stopped when he noted the madness igniting Sheila's face.
The same look rabid dogs wore before eating their young.
Probably safer to stay put.
Crouching in the corner as another plate shattered in the distance, he considered his options.
Two insanely angry and jealous women were waiting for him to come out of hiding to either castrate him or kill him. The second option seemed the better of the two, so he made his decision. Slowly rising, he approached both ladies with his hands up in surrender. Unfortunately, they took his advance as an act of attack and began shouting over one another. The last word he heard from Sheila's mouth was tramp, and then Constance grabbed a handful of Sheila's hair and began tugging with all her might.
"That's my exit," he whispered under his breath and motioned for his two brothers to follow him out. He should have left them there and fed them to the wolves, also known as Constance and Sheila, but it would have ended in bloodshed and he happened to like his brothers. Most days.
"Likely the most action I'll see for years," John lamented as they stepped out into the busy street.
"John, that's probably the most action you've seen since birth," Ronald joked, nudging him between the ribs.
Royce tried to ignore them both and made his way back toward the mansion. They currently resided in one of the plushest areas of New York known to Americans living on the East Coast.
Society smiled upon the McArthur boys for no other reason than they were handsome and rich. There were worse things in life.
Royce had just never faced any of them before.
He was spoiled.
But he only admitted it out loud when he was drunk.
He took the steps two at a time as he approached the beautiful mansion, only to find his mother already outside waiting for him. Arms folded, lips pursed. Was it his lot in life to one day be killed off by a female?
Something to look forward to, he thought, pasting a giant grin on his face.
"We need to talk." It was more of a command than anything. Keepi
"Sit," she ordered, her hands trembling with nervousness as she straightened her dress.
He sat and looked at her through hooded eyes. Boots perfectly polished. Wavy black hair tucked behind his ears.
"I'm only going to say this once, Royce."
"That's a relief," he joked.
"Royce Donald McArthur, this is serious!"
"Yes, Mother. I can tell by your smile."
"I am not smiling!" Her tiny voice reached a higher pitch, but even he noted that the corners of her mouth had turned, just slightly, revealing a grin.
"Aw, there it is!" He pointed.
"Royce!" She grinned and then closed her eyes. "I cannot even look at you. I look at you and lose my ability to think straight."
"Do you know I get that a lot? Usually from lady friends, though just last week an odd-looking gentleman paid me a similar compliment. Do please continue. I like to hear more of my attributes."
"Oh, Lord, what have I done to deserve such a vain son?" His mother clasped her hand over her forehead and fell into the chair beside him.
"Do you think he'll answer?"
"God. Because if He does, can you please ask Him why He cursed me with this wretched ache in my back, because—"
He stopped talking, mainly because his mother did not appear amused, and he was wise enough to stop conversing when he had pushed her past her limits.
"That is sacrilege, you spoiled, spoiled boy."
"Thank you, I do try." He inspected his nails and patted her hand patronizingly. "Now, what is it you wish to discuss with me? The weather? Our money—we are extremely wealthy by the way, thanks to another new investment—or how about dresses? Would you like to go shopping, Mother? Is the décor in the house to your liking? Traveling, maybe? You should like to take a trip to London! Visit some of our cousins! Who are they again? Oh yes, the Duke of Tempest, good fellow. Heard he just got married. Brilliant match."
"Cease talking before I grab your father's pistol."
He stopped talking.
"My dear, I love you. You know I do, but you need to grow up."
He was a genius. He nodded his head in agreement but was more concerned with the idea of locking himself in the house for a few days to escape the wrath of the mistresses. Which is how he would now refer to them, considering they were in league against him.
"I love you too, Mother. How would you like me to prove my maturity?"
"I need grandchildren."
Royce nearly choked "Ask John."
Royce ran his hand through his thick hair. "Fine. Then ask Ronald."
"He's one and eight, Royce, and just yesterday he asked me how many continents were on the planet."
Royce shrugged, "Nobody ever accused him of being the smartest of the bunch. You've never mentioned this whole grandchild business before. Why is it important now?"
"From not having grandchildren?" Royce concluded.
"No, Royce!" This time her pain was real. "I'm dying every day. I'm getting older and older, and well, I know it's hard for you to understand, since you're so young, but I want to see my grandchildren before I pass. Time is precious. We saw just how precious when your father passed on."
Royce refused to talk about his father for that reason. He had wasted time, and now he was gone. It was the reason why Royce lived for every moment rather than carefully calculating every move. It was also why, from a business standpoint, he was so successful.
"When?" he asked, afraid of the answer. Perhaps it was time to settle down. Being chased by crazed women was hazardous to his health and growing tiresome. They had almost torn him limb from limb tonight. Yes, marriage was beginning to sound better every moment. One woman? How bad could it be? More than likely he would be given at least a year to settle down.
"Before the spring ends," his mother answered.
"As in…" He mentally calculated how many months he had, and then felt the room shrinking around him. "As in four months?"
His mother nodded. "Four months. Choose wisely, son. Marriage is forever."
With that his tiny mother lifted herself out of her chair and abruptly left him alone to suffocate in the tiny, hot room. He had to get married in four months. His mind spun frantically.
The two women he had been spending time with recently both wanted to kill him, and there were no prospects within hundreds of miles; had there been any, he would have courted them already. If he was to be married in four months, he needed to find a suitable girl. And fast.
Evelyn tried to calm the butterflies in her stomach. The months of training had led to this moment. The moment she would be presented to the richest and most powerful families in American society.
Her father had paid the best tutors for the past year, yet she still felt like she wasn't ready. You can't take the farm out of the girl. It wasn't possible, not when one's whole life revolved around said farm.
She still had her thick accent despite her etiquette teacher's efforts to beat it out of her, literally. Every time she said y'all she was smacked with a stick.
Needless to say, she had a lot of marks.
Crunching the silk dress between her fingers, she marched into the giant ballroom and gasped. It was everything she'd imagined! Her grin widened as she looked up and noticed the giant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Everyone was dancing splendidly. It was something out of her dreams. Everywhere she looked there were pretty dresses and laughing people.
It was her heaven.
Taking another steadying breath, she made her away across the room to the only other person she knew in attendance.
"Aw, darlin', you are a sight!"
She twirled in front of him and tried to ignore the wells of tears pooling in his eyes. "Daddy, this is wonderful."
"I know, Babydoll. You just have yourself some fun."
She nodded and walked off. To where, she didn't know. It wasn't as if she knew a soul at the ball. The family had been quite reclusive since selling everything back home in Louisiana and moving to New York.
Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she had forgotten to eat again. It was hard to remember mealtimes when her days were filled with so much instruction. There was also the corset to worry about. It was so tight, she was afraid eating as much as a pea would cause a tear in the dratted thing.
Maybe if she just looked at the food she would feel better.
Evelyn glided to the table and gasped yet again.
It was glorious.
Meat dishes filled every inch of the table, making her mouth water. Oh, how she loved meat. Only as a tear escaped the side of her eye did she realize she was actually crying over food.
"I must say, this is a first," a deep voice interrupted from behind her.
Closing her eyes, she turned around.
"Doubtful that closing your eyes will make me disappear, though you're welcome to try," the voice drawled. A faint British accent could be heard in the words.
Her girlish curiosity got the better of her. She opened her eyes. And froze.
Staring back at her had to be the most wicked-looking man on God's green earth.
Dark chocolate eyes, wavy black hair, and deep-set dimples faced her.
Not one to swoon, she leaned on the nearest stand of flowers and prayed it wouldn't crash to the floor.
"I don't think we've been introduced," she said slowly, trying to dampen her Southern accent.
"I think I would have remembered," he replied, bringing her hand up to his lips. His eyes held wic
He stared at her longer than necessary, causing her to feel uncomfortable. This man was obviously bad news. "Your name?" he prompted.
She searched her head for the right answer. Wasn't it improper to introduce herself? Wait, no, that was in London. In America you could say your name without a chaperone present, couldn't you? She opened her mouth to speak, and then she snapped it shut. There were too many rules! What if she guessed wrong?
He lifted an eyebrow in response, prodding her into action.
"Evelyn De Jarlias. And you are?" She scolded herself for being so forward.
"Whoever you want me to be," he crooned, drawing closer.
"Oh. So you're one of those." The words were out of her mouth before she had time to think. Oh well. She was probably already going to make a mess of things with this one anyway; may as well jump in with both feet.
"One of what?"
"A lady's man? A rake of the first order. You know, the man who wants to be whatever the lady says just so he can lift her skirts."
He had the good sense to blush.
"I'm not sure a lady of good breeding should talk about skirt-lifting."
"And I'm not sure a gentleman should acknowledge my shortcomings. And I'm not a lady. I mean, I'm a lady as in I'm a female… Oh, drat!" He was biting his lip to keep from laughing. "Never mind. Oh, I messed this up more than Betsy when she trampled all our hens last fall."
"Birds," she said, slowly enough for him to understand.
Obviously he did because he looked quite put out.
"Yes, I know what a bird is, Miss De Jarlias, although I do appreciate any lessons having to do with the animal kingdom. Do you by any chance want to discuss mating? I find it fascinating."
"I'm sure you would find anything fascinating if it had to do with making anyone within a safe distance more aware of your sexual prowess," she quipped, then put her hand over her mouth. There I go again.