"For the love of God," Elizabeth snapped, "I'm not going to marry a marquis. But the book might have some sort of useful advice in it, since I have to marry someone, and nobody is asking."
"Except Squire Nevins," Susan murmured, flipping through the pages.
Elizabeth swallowed down a little dash of bile. The thought of Squire Nevins touching her, kissing her ... it made her skin turn to ice. But if he was the only way she could save her family ...
She squeezed her eyes shut. There had to be something in that book that would teach her how to find a husband. Anything!
"This is really quite interesting," Susan said, plopping down on the carpet next to Elizabeth. "Listen to this: 'Edict Number One—”'
"Edict?" Elizabeth echoed. "There are edicts?"
“Apparently so. I say, this business of catching a husband is more complicated than I'd thought."
"Just tell me what the edict is."
Susan blinked and looked back down. " 'Be unique. But not too unique.' "
"What the devil does that mean?" Elizabeth exploded. "If that isn't the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I'm putting that book back tomorrow. Who is this Mrs. Seeton, anyway? Not a marchioness, so I don't see why I should listen—"
"No, no," Susan said, waving her arm at her sister without looking at her. "That's just the title of the edict. She goes on to explain."
"I'm not certain I want to hear this," Elizabeth grumbled.
"It's actually quite interesting." "Give me that." Elizabeth snatched the book back from her sister and read silently:
IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU BE A WOMAN WHO IS WHOLLY UNIQUE. THE MAGIC THAT IS YOU MUST ENTRANCE YOUR LORD UNTIL HE CANNOT SEE THE ROOM BEYOND YOUR FACE.
Elizabeth snorted. " 'The magic that is you'? 'See the room beyond your face'? Where did this woman learn how to write? A perfumery?"
"I think the bit about the room and your face is rather romantic," Susan said with a shrug.
Elizabeth ignored her. “Where is the bit about not being too unique? Ah, here it is."
YOU MUST STRIVE TO CONTAIN YOUR UNIQUENESS SO THAT ONLY HE MAY SEE IT. YOU MUST PROVE TO HIM THAT YOU WILL BE AN ASSET AS HIS WIFE. NO LORD OF THE REALM WISHES TO BE SHACKLED TO EMBARRASSMENT AND SCANDAL.
"Did you get to the part about the shackles yet?" Susan asked. Elizabeth ignored her and kept on reading.
IN OTHER WORDS, YOU MUST STAND OUT IN A CROWD, BUT ONLY IN HIS CROWD. FOR HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO MATTERS.
Elizabeth looked up. "There is a problem here." "There is?"
"Yes." She tapped her finger against her forehead, as was her habit whenever she was thinking hard on a subject. "All of this presupposes that I have set my sights on a single male."
Susan's eyes bugged out. "You certainly cannot set your sights on a married man!"
"I meant one particular man," Elizabeth retorted, swatting her sister on the shoulder.
"I see. Well, Mrs. Seeton does have a point. You cannot marry two."
Elizabeth pulled a face. "Of course not. But I should think I must indicate my interest in more than one if I am to secure a proposal. Didn't Mother always say we must not place all of our eggs in one basket?''
"Hmmm," Susan mused, "you have a point. I shall research the matter this evening."
“I beg your pardon?''
But Susan had already sprung to her feet and was dashing up the stairs. "I shall read the book tonight," she called out from the landing, "and I shall report to you in the morning."
"Susan!" Elizabeth used her sternest voice. "Bring that book back to me immediately."
"Have no fear! I shall have worked out our strategy by breakfast!" And the next thing Elizabeth heard was the sound of a key turning in a lock as Susan barricaded herself in the room she shared with Jane.
"Breakfast?" Elizabeth muttered. "Is she planning to skip supper, then?"
Apparently she was. No one saw hide nor hair of Susan, nor even heard the veriest peep from her room. The Hotchkiss clan numbered only three that night at the table, and poor little Jane couldn't even get into her room to go to bed and had to sleep with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was not amused. Jane was a sweetheart, but she stole all the blankets.
When Elizabeth went down to breakfast the next morning, Susan was already at the table, little red book in hand. Elizabeth noted grimly that the kitchen showed no signs of use.
"Couldn't you have started breakfast?" she asked grumpily, searching the cupboard for eggs.
"I've been busy," Susan replied. "Very busy."
Elizabeth didn't reply. Blast. Only three eggs. She'd have to go without and hope that Lady Danbury was planning a hearty luncheon that day. She positioned an iron skillet on a tripod over the hearth fire and cracked the three eggs open.
Susan got the hint and started slicing bread for toast. "Some of these rules aren't so terribly difficult," she said as she worked. "I think even you could follow them."
"I am overwhelmed by your confidence in me," Elizabeth said dryly.
"In fact, you should begin practicing now. Isn't Lady Danbury going to host a party later in the summer? There will surely be prospective husbands in attendance."
"/ won't be in attendance."
"Lady Danbury doesn't plan to invite you?" Susan burst out, clearly outraged. “Well, I never! You may be her companion, but you are also the daughter of a baronet, and thus—"
"Of course she will invite me," Elizabeth replied evenly. "But I shall refuse."
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