On a Wild Night

By: Stephanie Laurens

Chapter 1

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Upper Brook Street, London

February 20,1825

"It's hopeless?" Amanda Cynster flopped on her back on her twin sister's bed. "There is simply no gentleman in the ton worth considering—not at present."

"There hasn't been for the last five years—well, not gentlemen interested in taking a wife." Stretched beside Amanda, Amelia stared up at the canopy. "We've searched and searched—"

"Turned every stone."

"And the only ones even vaguely interesting are… not interested."

"It's ludicrous!"

"It's depressing."

Alike in both feature and figure, blessed with blond ringlets, cornflower blue eyes and porcelain complexions, the twins could easily have posed for La Belle Assemblee as the epitome of well-bred fashionable young ladies, except for their expressions. Amelia looked disgusted, Amanda mutinous. "I refuse to lower my standards."

They'd discussed their requirements in a husband ad infinitum over the years. Their standards did not materially differ from those espoused by their mentors—their mother and aunts, their cousins' wives. They were surrounded by strong women, ladies all, who had, one and all, found happiness in their marriages. The twins had little doubt as to the qualities they sought.

A gentleman who loved them, who would set them and the family they would raise above all other considerations. A protector, a helpmate, with a reliable, strong arm who would always be there to keep them safe. A man who valued their skills, intelligence and opinions, who would accept them as an equal however much he wished to be lord and master of his world. A gentleman of sufficient substance to render their not-inconsiderable dowries by-the-by; a man of their world well connected enough to take the powerful Cynster clan in his stride.

A man of passion and family feeling—lover, protector, partner. Husband. Amanda humphed. "There have to be some out there who measure up to our cousins"—the Bar Cynster, that notorious group of six who had for so long lorded it over the ton, leaving uncounted ladies languishing in their wake until, one by one, fate had snared their hearts. "They can't be unique."

"They're not. Think of Chillingworth."

"True—but when I do, I think of Lady Francesca, so that's not much help. He's already taken."

"He's too old, anyway. We need someone nearer our age."

"But not too near—I've had my fill of earnest young men." It had been a road-to-Damascus revelation when they'd realized that their cousins—those arrogant, dictatorial males they had for so long fought to be free of—were in fact the embodiment of their ideals. The realization had thrown the shortcomings of the current candidates for their hands into even more dismal relief. "If we're ever to find husbands, we're going to have to do something!"

"We need a plan."

"One different to last year's, or the year before that's!" Amanda glanced at Amelia; her twin's expression was abstracted, eyes fixed on some vision only she could see. "You look as if you have one." Amelia glanced her way. "No, not a plan. Not yet. But there are suitable gentlemen, only they aren't on the lookout for a wife. I can think of at least one, and there must be others. I was thinking… maybe we should stop waiting and take matters into our own hands."

"I couldn't agree more, but what are you proposing?"

Amelia's jaw firmed. "I'm sick of waiting—we're twenty-three! I want to be married by June. Once the Season starts, I'm going to reassess and make a new list of candidates, regardless of whether they're thinking of marriage or not. Then I intend picking the one that suits me best, and taking steps to ensure he accompanies me to the altar."

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