A Family Affair

Prologue

August, 1801

“I would be an excellent wife.”

Fanny could tell she had surprised him with her daring boast. Devlin Ross closed his book and stared at her with disbelief.

“Excuse me?”

No time to waste. Not now when she finally had his full attention. When Uncle Rake dashed out the front door alone, she knew his friend would be somewhere by himself. He’d mentioned the book from school, the one he had to read before their summer holiday was over, so she’d started her search in the library.

And luck was with her. She found her hero by himself, lounging in a comfortable armchair surrounded by shelves containing thousands of books.

“I would, you know,” she continued, not acknowledging his confusion. “You couldn’t do better. Everybody says so.”

“They do?” he uttered, baffled, and she nodded, satisfied with his input to the conversation.

“All the time.”

She tried to look as innocent as possible as she told the lie, but just like her parents he saw straight through her.

“Are they now?” His golden eyes twinkled as he gave her one of his breathtaking smiles.

“Maybe,” she admitted, and giggled when he rolled his eyes, without words telling her he knew she was lying to him again. She thought no one could love him more than she did. With her head to one side, she sighed in awe, pretending not to see his amused grin.

“So, Devlin, will you?”

“Will I what, Pup?”

She sighed again, but this time with some slight irritation. How would she get the answer she wanted from him if he didn’t listen to her?

“Marry me?”

“Oh.”

Again she had managed to surprise him, and as he seemed quite out of words, she decided he needed a little push.

“I would be an excellent wife,” she repeated seriously, with a grave voice. His eyes twinkled again, blinding her with the bright beauty of him.

“I’m sure you would be.”

She liked his polite reply and bestowed her most radiant smile upon him before she moved to sit on his lap, forcing him to put away his book. He sat stiffly, unused to having someone in his lap, so she took his hands and put them around her waist.

“That’s good,” she praised him.

“Thank you,” he said courteously, and she bowed her head gracefully in response.

They sat silent for a while, and she closed her eyes and enjoyed his breath as it caressed her hair. She put her arms around his torso, planted her cheek tightly against his shirt, and listened to his heart beating steadily.

“So will you?”

He used mild force to make her sit up straight so he could look into her face.

“Will I what?”

“Marry me?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Pup. I haven’t really thought about marriage yet. I’m rather young, you know.”

“But so am I, and I know what I want.”

He gave her the same kind of fatherly smile her brothers gave her when they thought her silly but didn’t want to hurt her feelings by telling her so.

“And you want me?” He sounded serious and interested, but she could tell by the way he was pursing his lips that he was trying hard not to laugh.

“Yup.” She nodded.

“Are you sure?”

“I know what I want.” Her voice was stern this time.

“Okay.” He gave in with a tender smile. “I will marry you, Pup.”

She clapped her hands and laughed with joy.

“Now you can always stay here,” she cried out, and jumped down from his lap to do a twirling dance in front of him, in sheer happiness.

“I can’t stay here. I have to finish school, just as your Uncle Rake does.”

Her dancing stopped, and she stared at him with tears in her eyes. For a moment she