High society reprobate.
An unconventional heiress.
Is it too late…
Knickerbocker scoundrel Harrison Archer returns to New York to discover that his deceased father has bankrupted his estranged family. To save them from ruin, he’s forced to quickly find and marry an heiress. For a matchmaker, Harrison turns to the one woman he wishes he could marry: his childhood friend and true love, Maddie, who once broke his heart and is now engaged to a duke.
For true love?
When her best friend Harrison left for Paris without a word, Maddie Webster took refuge in her infatuation with tennis. Now Harrison is back and needs her help in finding a bride. Begrudgingly, Maddie arranges a house party in Newport with a guest list of eligible heiresses. But watching Harrison flirt with potential brides is more than she can bear.
When Harrison and Maddie reunite, the passion between them ignites. But with their marriages to others looming, time is running out. Is their fate inescapable . . .or can love set them free?
Coming March 9, 2021.
“Their sexual chemistry and dynamic banter, especially during intimate moments, convey an alluring blend of love and playfulness.”
Maddie twirled a lawn tennis racket in her hand and studied her childhood friend from afar as he approached the court. He was back.
Three years had passed since she’d seen Harrison Archer, with no word from him in all that time, and now he’d written a vague note last night to request her help.
She wasn’t certain how to feel about that. While she was happy to see him, part of her still bristled that he’d dismissed their friendship so easily. She wasn’t accustomed to being forgotten by those whom she considered close friends.
Christopher “Kit” Ward, had tagged along with Harrison this morning, but Maddie hardly noticed him, her gaze remaining locked on Harrison. The morning sun framed his face, illuminating his sharp cheekbones and strong jaw. While full lips and a straight nose complemented his perfect face, it was his piercing blue eyes that had caused debutantes to swoon.
Maddie hadn’t thought much of his appeal back then, they were friends for so long, but this Harrison was . . . different. He walked with more confidence, his back straight and proud. His frame was bulkier than the college boy she remembered, with wider shoulders and a broader chest, and thick thighs that pulled tight against his white trousers.
A spark caught deep in her belly, a flare of appreciation that was entirely new—and unwanted. You shouldn’t be ogling him in such a crass manner.
Yet she couldn’t stop.
Goodness, he’d become a fully grown man—and a beautiful one, at that.
Exhaling, she stared at her feet and pushed away any fascination with his appearance. There had never been anything resembling desire between them—and she would not embarrass herself by starting now.
After all, they had known each other forever. She’d been an only child desperate for a friend and he’d been a boy eager to escape his family at every turn. They had explored, swum, ridden bicycles and played together each summer since she was ten and he was twelve, the two of them nearly inseparable.
Until he’d left without a word during her debut. He hadn’t returned to college for his senior year, instead disappearing to Europe.
Soon, stories of his Parisian escapades began reaching her ears. As a wealthy, handsome young man from one of the best New York families, Harrison became the toast of Paris. Stories of women, drinking and friendships with artists and cabaret dancers, soon reached her ears. Then she stopped listening because she didn’t recognize this reprobate, the one arrested by Parisian gendarmes for cavorting with anarchists. Oh, yes. She’d heard that one, too.
Life in New York had carried on. Maddie threw herself into her love for tennis and decided to craft a plan for her future:
Practice every day without fail.
Hire Valentine Livingston, the finest doubles player in America, who’d recently retired, to act as her coach.
Push off marriage for two years so she could play competitive tennis across the country.
Marry at the end of her third season, making the very best match possible.
Thank goodness her mother and father had agreed.
This past spring, three years of hard work and carefully laid plans had finally paid off. She had qualified for the All-Comers competition at the Philadelphia Cricket Club at the end of June, also known as the U.S. National Championships.
It was her ultimate dream to become the top women’s tennis player in the country.
“About time you arrived,” she said as the men walked up. “I was afraid I’d need to play alone.”
“Good morning,” Kit said, kissing her cheek. “Have we thrown off your precious schedule?”
“You know you have. My whole day is booked and I must get in my practice.”
“Blame this one.” Kit jerked a thumb in the other man’s direction. “He made me wait forever.”
“I had to dig out the tennis whites.” Harrison’s voice was a deep rumble that rolled through her chest. “It’s been a while since I’ve played. Hello, Maddie.”
“Hello, Harrison. I see you’ve returned from Paris.”
Silence stretched. There was knowledge in his blue eyes, all their shared conversations, the sly smiles. A hundred jokes, a thousand secrets. He was at once so familiar and yet a complete stranger. Her throat burned with questions and recriminations, as well as stories of what he’d missed while he was away. But that was for her old friend. She had no idea what to say to the man standing in front of her now.
She willed him to offer up something—an apology? An excuse? Anything to help her understand his absence—but he remained silent, watching her. Was he also taking in the changes since they’d last seen each other? Thinking of their past history and wondering what happened?
One thing was clear. Their friendship hadn’t meant as much to him as it had to her. He’d moved away without any warning, with no goodbye. He hadn’t even written her a letter in all this time.
“Shall we play, Maddie?” Kit pointed to the court.
She cleared her throat. “I’m ready if you are.”
Harrison shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. “I’ll pour some coffee and switch out with Kit in the second set.”
“There’s no need for that,” she said. “I’ll play you both.”
Harrison blinked several times, and Kit slapped him on the back. “You’ve been gone a long time, pal. She’s better than the two of us combined, trust me.” He wandered off to select a racket, leaving Maddie and Harrison alone.
“You look well,” he said.
“Thank you. I was sorry to hear about your father.”
The edge of his mouth hitched because they both knew better. “Were you, really?”
“No. He was not a nice man. I daresay Hell is grateful to have him.”
Harrison chuckled. This was familiar territory, with bits of her old friend showing through in his amused expression, and the knot between her shoulder blades eased somewhat. “Pick up a racket. Let’s get started.”
The three of them soon stood on the court, with Maddie on one end and the men on the other. “You may serve,” she told Kit. “I need to work on my return.”
Kit hit a slow serve that Maddie sent up the line for a winner. Harrison whistled. “Excellent shot, Mads.”
The forgotten nickname nearly caused her to trip. Only Harrison had ever called her Mads. She didn’t respond, and there was no more discussion for the next twenty minutes as play went back and forth. She focused on her swing, perfecting the spin and angles that made lawn tennis so exciting.
“So, Maddie,” Harrison said between points. “Tell me about this duke of yours.”
The question surprised her, so she bounced the tennis ball several times, considering a response.
To be precise, Lockwood wasn’t her duke—at least not yet. When the Duke of Lockwood took New York society by storm in March, Maddie’s mother reminded her of their agreement—that it was time for Maddie to choose a husband. After all, a fourth season was practically unheard of, even if the reason for not settling down was justified. Everyone knew that an English duke was the most powerful aristocrat save the queen, so Lockwood was the best catch of the season. The challenge excited her, with the title of duchess as the final prize. She wasn’t alone, however; the matchmakers went into a tizzy to get their daughters near the duke.
Maddie angled to attend several dinners where the handsome Duke of Lockwood was a guest, and the two of them got on well together right from the start based on a shared love of the outdoors and sporting pursuits. Since then, their relationship had blossomed and they now went driving in the park every Monday at four o’clock. At the moment, rumors of a betrothal burned up Fifth Avenue receiving rooms, and Maddie had every confidence she would soon receive Lockwood’s ring.
When that happened, she would become a duchess and go on her own grand adventure across the pond. What more could a girl in her position possibly ask for?
Still, she and Harrison had never discussed other women or men in a romantic sense. The topic had been avoided, though she’d always assumed he chased bosoms and bustles, as had every other young man of her acquaintance back then.
He left and slept with half of Paris. Why should you feel the least bit awkward in discussing your future husband?
“He’s a bit of a bore,” Kit said, sotto voce, when Maddie didn’t speak up.
“He is nothing of the sort.” Maddie lifted her chin as she readied to serve the ball. “His Grace is kind and intelligent, a good conversationalist. We share many of the same interests.”
“He’s a hunting and fishing sort of chap,” Kit said to Harrison. “Probably has hounds that chase foxes.”
He did, actually. Lockwood had explained the practice to her one afternoon. She served the ball, starting the point.
“Sounds awful,” Harrison remarked as he hit a return to the left side of the court.
Maddie’s skin prickled with irritation and anger. No one had the right to disparage Lockwood, least of all Harrison, a former friend who’d dropped her like a roll straight from the oven when he left town. Before she could stop herself, she sent the ball whizzing toward his head.
Unable to get out of the way, he dove for cover and hit the ground, his chest flat on the grass, as the ball sailed over. “Good God, Maddie. What on earth was that for?”
An apology burned on her tongue but she swallowed it. “You have no right to criticize me.”
“I am not criticizing you.” Harrison rose and put his palms out. “I was criticizing the duke.”
“Whom you’ve never even met.”
“That never stopped us from criticizing your mother’s guests during her garden parties.”
Though she tried to stop it, her lips twitched as she fought off a smile. That had been one of their favorite games, to hide in the bushes just off the lawn and watch the guests, then invent names and backstories for each of them. “Remember the time she caught us and made us come out so she could introduce us?”
He grinned while he brushed dirt and grass off his clothing. “You were the color of a tomato.”
“As were you, Harrison Archer.”
He laughed, and Maddie suddenly realized how much she’d missed the sound. How much she’d missed him. She started to tell him as much, but quickly closed her mouth.
He didn’t miss you. He never even wrote. Stop thinking you matter to him.
The only reason he’d reached out to her now was for a favor. Perhaps it was time to get to the point of the morning’s reunion. “Your note mentioned you needed something.”
“Yes, I need your help.” Harrison ambled to the net. “I realize it is an imposition, but I am desperate.”
“Then I promise to keep an open mind.”
“Good. I need you to help me find a wife.”
Her jaw fell open. Out of everything he could have asked, she hadn’t expected that.
Questions whirled in her mind like a spinning ball, yet she fought to keep her voice even as she drew closer. “A wife?”
“Wait a minute.” Kit joined them at the net and frowned at Harrison. “Why on earth would you need to marry?”
“Mother says she’ll cut me off otherwise.”
“Dash it,” Kit muttered.
“Precisely.” Harrison’s expression sobered as he turned to her. “Will you help me? You’re friends with everyone in town.”
“I can give you a few names to call upon.” Heiresses were like hansom cabs in New York City; there was one on nearly every corner.
He shook his head. “That will take too long. I need this to happen quickly. I want to return to Paris before the end of the summer.”
“Courtships take time, Harrison. Furthermore, I’m a bit busy. I have an important tennis tournament at the end of June.”
“Yes, the Nationals. Congratulations on that, by the way.”
“Thank you. So you can see I haven’t time to squire you around town and introduce you to my friends. I’m leaving to practice in Newport soon.” It was cooler there, with fewer distractions than the city.
“That’s perfect,” Harrison said. “What about a house party over a long weekend? You could invite some friends.”
“Good idea,” Kit put in. “Beach, sun and champagne. You’ll find a wife in no time.”
“Exactly. What do you think, Maddie?”
She wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead. Strange to imagine Harrison getting married, but they weren’t kids any longer. After all, she was nearly engaged. And the Archers were one of the oldest and wealthiest families in New York. Word of Harrison’s return and interest in finding a bride would cause a minor sensation.
“Please, Mads,” Harrison said. “You’re the only one I trust to help me find a wife who won’t make me miserable. You know me better than anyone else.”
“That may have been true three years ago, perhaps, but not now.”
“You’re wrong. I am the exact same person who beat you at croquet all those years.”
A surprised laugh tumbled out of her throat. “You lying liar! I beat you at croquet.”
His blue eyes twinkled with familiar mischief, a look she recognized from years of their escapades. “I don’t want to do this without you. Please, Maddie.”
Warmth blossomed in her chest and her resentment toward him softened. This is Harrison, your childhood friend. You’ve always helped each other.
Like that time she fell and skinned her knee, and he carried her all the way home on his back . . .
Or when his father had been so drunk and angry that she hid Harrison in her room for an entire day . . .
And how he willingly went along with all of her schemes and games, never complaining once . . .
How could she possibly refuse him one weekend in Newport with her friends?
“All right. I’ll speak with my mother and start forming a guest list.”
Leaning over the net, Harrison pressed a quick kiss to her cheek. “You’re the best. Thank you.”
It was nothing he hadn’t done a hundred times before, but Maddie’s stomach flipped for some inexplicable reason. She ignored the reaction and pointed to the house. “If we are finished, then I’ll go get cleaned up.”
Harrison tucked the racket under his arm, appearing extremely pleased with himself. “We shall leave you to it, then. Until Newport, Maddie.”
©Joanna Shupe 2020