Elizabeth Whately is new to London, but already her mother is pressuring her to make a fabulous match with a wealthy nobleman. She would be very happy to if only the men she met exhibited any sort of intelligence—sadly she has only been able to have an actual conversation with one man and her mother has deemed him ineligible because of his lack of funds.

Oliver Wynsham hasn’t thought to much about finding a wife. He also hadn’t ever thought he’d worry about having food on his table or a roof over his head and yet when his father’s gambling losses empty the family’s coffers he begins to do just that. Things come to a head when, with nothing more to wager, his father loses their only estate in a game of cards. Sadly, coinciding with this loss, Oliver discovers the one woman he could actually see spending the rest of his life with. Without a penny to his name, however, he knows that he can’t even think of offering for her.

When hearts collide and all seems lost, perhaps only a full rebellion can clear the way forward.

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When Hearts Rebel

A Merry Men Series Novella

Chapter One

“Shine, Elizabeth, shine!” her mother whispered fiercely.

Elizabeth had no idea what it meant to shine.

“No! Don’t grin like an idiot, shine!” her mother’s voice was harsh in her ear.

Elizabeth turned her head to glare at her mother, who was standing just behind her right shoulder in the overcrowded, overheated ballroom. “I don’t know how to shine.”

Her mother’s eyes closed in frustration. She took a deep breath and said, “Imagine that you’re a princess. The most beautiful princess in the world… And if you don’t win the adoration of a handsome prince, your mother is going to lock you in a tower and station an evil dragon below your only window. Now, attract a prince.” Her words ended in a growl.

Elizabeth turned around quickly and looked about the room for a handsome prince to attract. There were a number of men roaming around the ballroom, but none of them looked anything like the handsome prince of her dreams.

“Mrs. Whately, Miss Elizabeth,” said Lady Cortnam, the daughter of their host, coming up to join them.

Elizabeth bobbed a curtsy. “Good evening.”

“Oh, Lady Cortnam, how wonderful to see you here this evening. And don’t you look lovely tonight?” Elizabeth’s mother said, turning a bright smile on the woman.

“Why, thank you, ma’am. Is Miss Whately not here this evening?” Lady Cortnam asked.

“Yes, of course she is!” Mrs. Whately said. She nodded her head toward the center of the floor where the two lines of dancers moved in the complicated steps of a country dance. “She is there, dancing with Lord Somerset. They make such a lovely couple, don’t they?”

Elizabeth almost choked. Her mother had been pushing her older sister at Lord Somerset since Georgie had first come out, and she still couldn’t stand the man. Georgie said she didn’t think his lordship held her in very high esteem either. They had come to a mutual understanding, though, that to please both of their parents, they would at least make an effort. To that end, Lord Somerset never failed to ask Georgie to dance when they saw each other at a party. Elizabeth figured that by now, they had at least attained a tolerable sort of friendship.

“Oh, indeed,” Lady Cortnam agreed. “They always seem to find each other, don’t they? But what about you, Miss Elizabeth? Why are you not dancing?”

“I…er… I haven’t been asked. I don’t really know anyone as yet,” Elizabeth stammered. She had only just arrived in London two weeks ago, and this was her very first ball. How could she be expected to know anyone?

“Oh, you poor thing! Here, let me make you known to some gentlemen.” She paused and looked around. With a slight lift of her fan, she beckoned to a gentleman standing nearby. He was rather short, barely as tall as Elizabeth herself, but not unpleasant looking. When he smiled, his teeth were all brown and twisted this way and that, however. Elizabeth pulled her gaze away from his mouth and focused on his eyes instead. They were a rather ordinary brown but had a happy twinkle in them.

“You beckoned, Lady Cortnam?” the gentleman asked with a bow.

“Lord Miter, may I present Miss Elizabeth Whately? She has recently arrived in Town. If I’m not mistaken, this is her very first ball, is it not Miss Elizabeth?” Lady Cortnam asked, giving Elizabeth a warm smile.

Curtsying to the gentleman, Elizabeth answered, “Yes, my lady, it is.”

“Well then, let me be the first to welcome you!” Lord Miter said with a titter. “Shall we see if we can join the dance? It isn’t long since it began.”

“Oh, that would be lovely, my lord. Thank you,” Elizabeth said, knowing that if she didn’t, she’d have to suffer her mother’s wrath.

“Smile!” her mother whispered just before she took the gentleman’s arm. Elizabeth plastered a smile to her lips.

Shine! Shine! Elizabeth said to herself. She stepped around her partner as the steps of the dance indicated. But this is not your prince, her rebellious mind protested. Who knows? Maybe he’s a brilliant conversationalist, she argued back. She looked Lord Miter in the eye and smiled as if she were having fun.

“And how are you enjoying your first season, Miss Elizabeth?” The man giggled.

“So far very well, thank you,” she responded. “I haven’t been here long, only a few weeks.”

“Ah. Is it your first visit to London?”

“Yes. It’s quite exciting,” she answered. It wasn’t really. In fact, she’d found the hustle and bustle of the city rather overwhelming at first. She was only just beginning to get used to it. After living her whole life in the country, London was a rude change. She’d never minded visiting York or any other smaller city, but somehow she just felt London to be too much—too much of everything… Rather like this ball. Too many people. Too much noise. Too many scents waring with each other. She was sure she’d get used to it—eventually.

She turned her attention back to her dance partner. He hopped and turned with the movements of the dance, a smile plastered on his face. He rather looked as if he were being strangled by his neck cloth, it was wrapped so many times around his short neck, and the high points of his coat kept scraping against his cheeks every time he turned his head. Poor thing. At least she didn’t have to contend with such things. Her gown was in the latest fashion with its higher waist and low décolletage. She especially liked the puffed sleeves that tightened, extending down to end in a puff of lace at her wrists.

No, this gentleman wasn’t the most exciting conversationalist, she reasoned, but perhaps he has other qualities. He dances quite well. Still, as they moved through the steps, she couldn’t help but allow her eyes to wander. Was there a prince among these men, she wondered.

She ticked them off as her gaze strayed through the dancers—too tall, too fat, too much of a dandy, too dark, too… Oh, wait. Her eyes slipped back to a man who was dancing farther down the line. Now he was handsome!

Rich, sable hair grazed against the collar of his coat as he threw his head back and laughed at something his partner had just said. His shoulders were pleasantly broad, his waist becomingly slender, his legs neither stick thin in their tight knee breeches and white stockings, nor bulging with fat or padding. He looked like he was having the time of his life, dancing with enthusiasm, but not overly so, and still maintaining a teasingly flirtatious conversation with his partner.

Oh, yes, he most definitely was a prince among these men.

“Who is it that you are staring at, Miss Elizabeth?” Lord Miter’s voice cut into Elizabeth’s thoughts.

“Oh! I do beg your pardon, my lord. That gentleman was laughing so loudly, I’m afraid he caught my attention, and I wasn’t able to retrieve it as quickly as I should have.”

“Weren’t able to… Oh!” Lord Miter laughed out loud. “Very clever, Miss Elizabeth, very clever!”

She gave him a little smile. Well, if nothing else, at least Lord Miter was easily amused.

“Do you know who he is?” she asked her partner as they slipped past each other in the dance.

“Yes, of course, and I will be happy to introduce you after the dance. Quite a pleasant fellow, Mr. Wynsham.”

“Thank you, my lord, that is very kind of you,” Elizabeth said, truly grateful for his consideration.

He gave a little titter and waved a negligent hand in the air. “Not a problem. Not at all. You need to meet more people, Miss Elizabeth. How else will you know when you have met the right one?”

Elizabeth almost stopped dancing at such wisdom coming from this gentleman. “How indeed, sir?” she said, before giving him a grateful smile.

The rest of the dance passed much more pleasantly, with Lord Miter offering to introduce her to quite a few more people—both men and women—they each noticed as they danced.

As they applauded the musicians after the dance, Lord Miter guided her away from where her mother was standing and having what looked like a very serious conversation with another lady that Elizabeth didn’t know.

“I say, Wyn, have you met Miss Elizabeth Whately yet?” Lord Miter said, walking up to the sable-haired prince.

The man turned a bright smile on her, so warming she could feel it straight to her core. “I have not had the pleasure,” he said. His voice added to the feeling of warmth, it was so rich and well-rounded. He bowed over her hand as she executed her curtsy.

“It is a pleasure, sir,” Elizabeth said, oddly finding herself a little tongue-tied.

“She was noticing how much fun you were having as we danced.” Lord Miter giggled again.

“Oh! Yes, I’m afraid it is one of my greatest faults. I love to dance, and while it may be inexcusable to say to another lady, I find Lady Tinsworth extremely clever and funny. She was describing her father’s morning routine… Well, I think you had to have heard it for yourself.”

“Really? That amusing was it?” Lord Miter said, looking over Elizabeth’s shoulder.

“Absolutely, you must go and ask her to recount it for you, Miter, you’ll be in stitches just as I was,” Mr. Wynsham said.

“I do believe I will. If you’ll excuse me, Miss Elizabeth, Wyn.” Lord Miter gave them a bow and then went off to find Lady Tinsworth.

“Would you care for a glass of lemonade, Miss Elizabeth?” Mr. Wynsham asked.

“Thank you, that sounds wonderfully refreshing.” They moved toward one of the footman who was standing by the door, a tray of drinks in his hand.

“So, how many times have you had to tell someone about when you arrived in town and all that you’ve been doing since, Miss Elizabeth?” Mr. Wynsham asked, his eyes twinkling.

Elizabeth’s hand flew to cover her mouth as she couldn’t both laugh and swallow her lemonade at the same time. She took in a deep breath through her nose and managed to swallow the liquid in her mouth.

“I beg your pardon. I didn’t mean to make you laugh while you were taking a drink.”

She shook her head. “It’s all right. You just caught me off guard. And you’re absolutely correct. I’ve had to answer those questions too many times, and I’ve been here less than two weeks.”

“Here in London or at this ball?”

Elizabeth giggled. Thankfully, this time her mouth was empty. “In London,” she clarified.

“You never know.” He gave a little shrug. “Sometimes it can feel like these dances go on forever.”

“I suppose it depends on who you’re partnered with,” she retorted.

He gave a laugh. “Too true! Which means that you must allow me to dance with you when the musicians return from their break.”

“I would be honored, but are you sure it wouldn’t be too onerous for you?” she asked teasingly.

His eyes lost their merry twinkle for just the briefest of moments and became quite serious, even though the smile never left his lips. “It would most certainly be a pleasure.”

Elizabeth felt her cheeks heat with the intensity of his gaze. “You are too kind.”

“To myself. I am quite selfish, I assure you. I only want to dance with the prettiest, most interesting women.”

Elizabeth had no idea what to say to such flattery. She could only turn her head away and try to keep the stupid smile from her lips. She took in another deep breath and turned back to the man. “So, aside from being the best dancer in society, what else do you enjoy doing, Mr. Wynsham?”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Oh, I dabble here and there. I have deep, meaningful conversations about politics and try not to be the wastrel my father would prefer I be. How about you?”

“Your father would like you to be a wastrel?” she asked.

“Well, he would like me less involved in the goings on of government. I’m certain he would be very happy were I to take an interest in the running of our estate. Since agriculture bores me more than I can say, I’m afraid he’s destined to be disappointed in that regard.”

“That is a shame since I presume that you will someday be a landowner. Can you find no interest in that pursuit?”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid not. While my father may be a baron, he has always been much more interested in the management of his estate than in the happenings in Parliament. Wheat, barley, animal husbandry—to me it explains why so many gentlemen dip into the bottle so frequently.”

Elizabeth gave a little smile. “Then politics it is, for you.”

“Yes. Sadly, I may need to wait until I can assume my father’s title before I actually get an opportunity to have my say in Parliament, but I’m afraid I like the old man too much to hurry him into an early grave.”

“Oh, dear! I am glad to hear that!”

“Yes. And now that this conversation has taken a decidedly serious turn, I believe the next dance is about to start. So what do you say we leave this where it is and have some fun?”

Fun was indeed what they had. By the time the next dance had finished, Elizabeth’s face hurt from smiling and laughing so much. Mr. Wynsham returned Elizabeth to her mother’s side and promised that it would not be the last she saw of him.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am to hear it,” she said with a laugh.

“You can, and I believe you just did.” And with that, he gave them both a bow and headed off to entertain some other young woman.

“Well done, my girl!” Mrs. Whately said, nodding approvingly. “I am so pleased that you are catching on to how this works.”

“Mr. Wynsham is a very charming gentleman,” Elizabeth agreed.

“And is he wealthy? Did you ask?” Her mother raised inquisitive eyebrows.

Elizabeth gasped. “I did not! How could I have? We were enjoying ourselves, not interrogating each other.”

“You need to learn how to do both at the same time,” her mother said. “Now try again with the next man, and we’ll see if we can’t find you a husband before too long.”

“Mother!”

“Honestly, Elizabeth, why do you think you’re here? I can tell you, it is not to have fun. Your sister failed to become engaged in her first season, so now we are forced to give her a second. With you here as well…” She shook her head. “I have no desire to spend the money on a third season for her nor a second for you. You had both better find wealthy husbands, or you will be forced to consider a position as a companion or a governess.”

“I believe I can already see that dragon approaching,” Elizabeth murmured to herself.

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Meredith Bond