Can he lose the disguise… and find himself?

 St. John Fotheringay-Phipps has nearly forgotten who he truly is. As the dashing, amusing dandy known to all in society as Fungy, he has hidden himself behind a mask of merriment. But he is reminded that there are pleasures beyond society — when he finds himself feeling responsible for the innocently lovely and fiercely intellectual Rose, the daughter of a famed archaeologist, and her charming, if socially inept, family.

Rose Grace knows that she cannot gamble with her future. She has suddenly been thrust into the role of mother to her two young sisters, companion to her brilliant, distracted father –and family savior.  She needs to do the right thing — to forget her own desires and quickly find a wealthy husband before the creditors come beating at their door. Then why is she distracted by the foppishly handsome Fungy, who seems so very irresponsible and pleasure-loving?  Surely he’s the last person whose advice she should follow!

Upstairs in the drawing room, Rose’s sisters were eagerly awaiting her verdict.

Laia was sitting with the stitching Great–aunt Farmington had forced on her, bright red head bowed over the frame. Thalia paced back and forth in front of the empty fireplace, long legs stretching out in front of her in the most unladylike way.

It was lucky that it was a warm spring and they had no need for fires, Rose thought. Considering their finances, they would probably not be able to afford the coal even if it were necessary.

Or their new clothes, she added to herself, admiring Laia’s white–and–blue striped muslin dress and blue kid slippers, just the thing for a girl who would only be making her curtsey to society in another two years. Thalia’s pale green dress, which came down only to just above her ankles, and brown kid half–boots were also exactly right for an active girl of fifteen. Both their dresses and shoes were new, and, along with her own new wardrobe, would be paid for dearly—as soon as Rose found a husband who wouldn’t mind paying their bills.

“Well?” Thalia asked as soon as she noticed Rose standing in the doorway.

Laia set aside her work. “What did he say? Are you going to be punished?” she asked as if it were a treat.

Rose came in and sat down on the sofa opposite Laia. “No. But I have to marry. Soon.” She hesitated only long enough to tuck a stray brown curl back into the knot at the top of her head, and then related the news of their financial situation to her sisters. Just as her mother had, she kept nothing from them.

“You poor thing!” Laia exclaimed, sitting back against the sofa.

“Oh, but this will be fun!” Thalia said, standing still for the first time since Rose had come into the room. Her bright green eyes, just like her mother’s and both of her sisters’, sparkled with mischief.

Rose and Laia both turned to look incredulously at her.

“What do you mean, fun?” Rose asked.

“I mean fun.” She scrunched up her forehead, adolescent brain clearly working hard. “We can look through all the gentlemen of the ton and pick one out for you. We’ll have to find out who is rich, of course, and discount any who are not. And then we’ll discard all the old ones, the ugly ones, and those who are not sportsmen—you can’t marry a man who doesn’t love sport, you know.” Thalia paused for a breath.

“Thalia, you make this sound…” Rose began, but Laia, who was closer in age to Thalia, had caught on to her younger sister’s excitement.

“Of course! What an excellent scheme! We’ll go to Hyde Park this afternoon and begin our search. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I’m certain you met quite a few gentlemen already last night, Rose.”

“Well…”

“Oh come now, don’t say that you don’t remember their names!” Laia said, before thoughtfully poking her needle through her sampler. “I wonder how we will figure out who is wealthy enough?”

“We can look at their horses,” Thalia suggested. “A man who is wealthy wouldn’t buy a horse without fine points!” She threw her long dark brown braids over her shoulders and began to pace back and forth again, thinking this through.

“And what if he isn’t a good judge of horseflesh?” Rose asked, trying hard not to laugh at her little sister.

“Well, then you definitely should not marry him,” she said very seriously.

Rose lost control. Her laughter bubbled out of her. Her sisters were being utterly ridiculous!

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Meredith Bond
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