Chapter 1 of The Ideal Bride:
At exactly twenty-nine minutes past the morning
hour of nine o'clock, Mr. Gabriel Carr, immaculately groomed in sober
blue superfine with simple cravat and blameless collar points, inspected
his reflection in his bedchamber looking glass. The cut of his tailored
jacket did nothing to emphasize his broad shoulders. His buff breeches
were too slack to reveal his muscular calves. The dignified style of
his raven hair lent no special charm to his cheekbones. Nor did it call
attention to his eyes, even when he peered carefully at his reflection
to ensure no twinkle sparked them to a deeper blue.
He gave his valet a satisfied nod, taking care not to smile. Smiling
only encouraged his dimples.
Precisely one minute later, he marched down the wide staircase of his
elegant Brook Street townhouse.
He nodded once to Bartlett who stood at attention in the foyer and proceeded
down the hall to the breakfast room.
He took his seat at the head of the table. As always, the silver gleamed,
the china sparkled and his morning business correspondence lay neatly
stacked beside his plate.
A place had been set for his mother. Excellent. He had been obliged
to repeat the order twice to Bartlett last night. The butler had been
of the opinion the only time Eleanor Carr would arrive downstairs before
noon would be on the sad day her lifeless body was carried down feet
Normally, Gabriel would have agreed. But not today. Not after she read
the note he had left for her last night. He would wager a pony she would
search him out this morning, if he was a gambling man, which, of course,
he was not.
The only question was what her attitude would be when she did appear.
In normal circumstances, his mother had the disposition of a kindly
mule she always smiled gaily as she did exactly as she pleased.
He selected a slice of ham and a bun from the warming dishes on the
oak sideboard. He declined to sample a third dish, the gelatinous contents
of which he could not identify. No doubt Chef had been prompted to be
creative by Mother's anticipated attendance this morning. Gabriel frowned.
He was not fond of innovation at breakfast. There was nothing wrong
with ordinary stirred eggs and herring. He would have to speak to Chef
again about keeping a firmer rein on his artistic tendencies, though
at least this dish was not aflame.
When he had arranged his napkin to his satisfaction, he picked up his
fork in one hand and his pencil in the other and began his breakfast.
The first report was from his clerk about the new merchant tenant in
the Bridge Street building. Londoners' enthusiasm for bisque-colored
porcelain had made Swann's Fine China Emporium a brilliant success.
Gabriel smiled at the figures at the bottom of the page. His decision
to accept a percentage of the profits in lieu of a fixed sum for rent
had already paid off to advantage.
When he saw the subject matter of the second report, he poured himself
a cup of coffee to better savor the experience. Garrard House in Pall
Mall was his most recent acquisition and his most ambitious venture
to date. According to the construction manager's account, the refurbishment
of the building was proceeding according to schedule. By the end of
the month, five of the most prestigious merchants in London would move
into their shared premises.
Gabriel permitted himself a small smile, dimples notwithstanding. A
client could visit the dressmaker, the tailor, the milliner, buy gloves
and shoes and furs and fans, even furniture and fabrics, all within
the same elegant building. There was even a restaurant to serve refined
refreshment on the third floor.
Every fancy furbelow ladies and gentlemen of good breeding needed to
make their lives complete, under one roof. His roof. His soon-to-be
very profitable roof.
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands behind his head. At
times like these he regretted he no longer drank brandy. Not that the
pleasure of a sound business transaction could compete with an idle
nasty habit like drinking brandy, of course, but the near completion
of Garrard House needed to be marked by some kind of celebration. He
poured himself another cup of coffee and added twice his normal amount
As he raised the brimming cup to his lips, the door slammed open.
"Good lord, Gabriel, what the devil do you mean you don't need
my help in finding yourself a bride?"
Eleanor Carr lurched to the table in her billowing purple dress like
a round grape rolling down a matron's heaving bosom. She collapsed in
her chair, leaned her elbows on the table, clasped her head in her plump
hands and moaned. The plumes in her headdress bobbed in waves of purple
"Good morning, Mother." He wrapped his napkin around his scalded
fingers. "I apologize for making you rise so early. I would have
spoken to you last night, but you had not yet returned home when I was
ready to retire."
"Are you saying I stayed out later than your bedtime?" she
asked without lifting her head. "Do you have a bedtime now, Gabriel?
The thought fills me with despair."
He pursed his lips. Of course he had a bedtime. He could hardly gallop
around London all night and make clear-headed business decisions the
next day. Unlike his mother, he had other responsibilities besides frivolous
self-indulgence. She had only arrived in London yesterday afternoon
and nevertheless had managed to find a party to go to last night. She
had a genius for finding the party. Despite it being September when
none of her ton cronies were supposed to be in town.
A glance at the morning's third report increased his irritation. Another
complaint from the latest tenant in the Soho Square warehouse. This
time, Smith the wine merchant was demanding better lighting on the outside
of the building to discourage night thievery. Gabriel drummed his pencil
on the table. The warehouse had been the first property he had acquired,
yet in five years, not one of its tenants had prospered.
"In any event, you're not waking me up." His mother squinted
in the sunshine streaming through the bow window. "I should hope
even a man as hellbent on becoming a monk as yourself would recognize
an evening gown when he saw it. I have just returned from the Goodacre's
rout. I came down as soon as I read your note."
"As I have always maintained I would set up my nursery at age thirty,"
he said absently, as he calculated the cost of Smith's new gas lamps,
"I should think you would be pleased to know I was ready to acquire
She slammed her hand down on the tablecloth. "There is no need
to remind me of your pigheaded adherence to the schedule you have devised
for your life! It is your perverse way of meeting it that oversets me."
She extracted a sheet of paper from somewhere on her person and read
aloud. "Dear Mother. I am ready to commence my search for
a bride. I shall notify you as soon as I have found a woman who meets
all of my specifications. Sincerely, your loving son Gabriel.'"
She wadded the note and hurled it across the table. It landed in his
He gritted his teeth and dabbed at the drops of coffee spattered on
his papers. His letter succinctly and accurately explained the situation.
He could hope for nothing better from any of his clerks and managers
when they wrote their daily reports.
She jutted out her chins. "Your birthday is in less than three
months. There isn't time for your usual intransigence if you want to
marry by then. I shall make a list of my friends who are firing off
females this year."
"I have no intention of marrying a daughter of one your friends."
He fished the soggy paper from his cup with his fork and poured himself
a fresh cup of coffee. One could never have enough coffee when faced
with his mother in a mulish mood.
"Certainly not." She reached for the silver coffee pot and
filled her own cup to the brim. "The daughters gave up on you long
ago. We shall have to resort to nieces and second cousins now. I will
begin making calls this afternoon."
"No, you will not." He leaned forward to emphasize his point.
"Your assistance is not needed because my first requirement is
that my wife come from a family whose background is in trade or commerce."
Her eyes bulged as her round face froze in her best expression of horror.
She clutched both hands to her heart for added effect.
He sighed. "Come now, Mother. It is not so unusual for a gentleman
to look for a bride amongst the merchant class. I could name any number
of dukes and earls who have done the same."
"They married for money! Surely you have all the blasted money
you need by now! Besides, you are not a peer. You are only the second
cousin of a baronet."
"Nevertheless, I am still a gentleman and I believe this holds
considerable attraction for a family wishing to move beyond its connections
"A gentleman? Ha. Your life is so dull, no one would know it. The
only thing you bother with is your buildings. It is bad enough you insist
on rising at this ludicrous hour every morning. But to sit there and
read about business all through breakfast is the outside of enough."
He smiled triumphantly. "Which is precisely why I need a bride
from a family involved in trade. This is the way I live. My wife must
understand that. A young woman from a merchant family would be proud
of my business interests, but the same thing would inspire nothing but
disgust in a well-brought up girl from the ton. She would forever be
longing for the day when I could be an idle gentleman again." He
tried not to gloat too overtly. That always made her more stubborn.
She plucked one of her plumes and fanned herself with it. "Could
you not look for a well-bred girl who would not object to your preoccupation
with business? You would be surprised what a woman is willing to overlook
if her husband does not resemble a toad."
"I have no intention of using my appearance to procure a wife."
He felt his cravat contract an inch.
"Why the devil not? There isn't a man in England who wouldn't give
his right arm to look like you."
"I do not care for fusses," was the best he could croak out
as he ran his finger under the noose around his neck. How on earth had
he gotten trapped in this idiotic conversation? It was absurd. He had
no intention of discussing with his mother the wearying siege of tearful
scenes and swooning dramatics women had plagued him with since he hit
puberty. All because of his appearance.
"Fusses? Is that what young men call it nowadays?" She tucked
the plume back into her headdress at a combative angle. "There
is nothing wrong with making a fuss if one is doing it with the right
person. Why, your father and I often enjoyed making a fuss, especially
"Mother!" He slammed his cup back into its saucer. "My
list of requirements provides a sounder foundation for marriage than
whether or not a woman is overcome by the cut of my jacket."
"I do not believe it is the thought of you wearing your jacket
they find so affecting," she muttered.
He glared at her as she heaved herself to her feet and tottered over
to the sideboard. Marriage was a very serious matter. He could buy and
sell buildings as he pleased, at a loss if he had to, but marriage was
forever. He was going to acquire a wifely asset that would profit his
life in every respect and he would not relinquish control of the process
to anyone. Not to his mother. Not to any woman, especially based on
mindless admiration of his
"Well, are you going to tell me about your precious list?"
she demanded. "Or are you too embarrassed to discuss it?"
"I am not the least embarrassed. Each one of my requirements has
been carefully selected to ensure a successful marriage. I devoted the
summer to studying the matter."
She heaped her plate with Chef's surprise. "That is exactly the
kind of mischief one would expect from someone who insisted on spending
the summer in London, instead of going off to the country like every
He frowned. "I hardly think careful deliberation about the features
one requires in a bride is mischief. Surely it is essential before one
considers embarking on the state of matrimony."
"Piffle." She flapped her fingers under his nose on her way
back to her chair. "Furthermore, if you are going to use the phrase
embarking on the state of matrimony' when you propose to the girl,
I cannot guarantee your suit will be accepted. Unless henwitted is one
of your requirements."
"My requirements are perfectly reasonable," he said in his
most longsuffering tone.
She balanced a dab of Chef's substance on her fork, raised it to her
nose and sniffed.
"For example," he continued, "in addition to the expected
criteria of superior character and agreeable disposition, I have specified
that my wife-to-be must have a calm and deliberate temperament, with
a natural dignity and composure."
She rolled the morsel of food between her fingers and held it up to
He crushed his napkin into a ball. "Not only will this ensure my
household is run in a calm and orderly fashion, it reflects my belief
that a husband and wife must be in harmony in their essential nature."
She spiked the morsel back onto her fork and placed it gingerly into
her mouth and chewed, eyes closed, moving the food from cheek to cheek
like a squirrel with a newfound nut. Finally, slowly, with pained concentration,
"Because a restrained and dignified manner of deportment,"
he continued grimly, "is a fundamental characteristic I like to
think my wife and I would share."
She remained motionless, her head tilted to one side, her eyes still
"Well, what on earth is it?" He could not stop himself from
She blinked once and smiled before she answered. "Eggs a la Portugese.
Or perhaps a la Russe. You know how Chef enjoys paying homage to all
of the participants in the war."
He clutched the table and forced himself to draw a slow steady breath
through his clenched teeth. Fifteen minutes with his mother or fifteen
rounds with Gentleman Jackson. He had done both. It was debatable which
He snapped open the cover of his pocket watch. Nearly ten o'clock. The
carriage would be ready. He bundled his papers into an orderly pile
and stood to take his leave.
His mother scrambled to her feet after him. "But you have not told
me the rest of the requirements you have for your bride. Surely you
want more in a wife than being docile and boring "
" calm and dignified," he gritted his teeth, "do
not mean boring." They did mean a soothing and restful home, something
his mother couldn't possibly understand. "My wife must also be
reasonable in figure and face and be skilled at household management."
He swung open the door. "I am, however, willing to be flexible
about whether she is blonde or brunette."
"How broad-minded." She linked her arm with his as they stepped
into the hallway. "But I still do not understand why you refuse
my help. I am one of the most well-connected women in town. Perhaps
I could locate some young women whose families are in trade and invite
them to an afternoon entertainment."
His house full of chattering chits and motivated mamas, with every eye
on him to see which of their darling chicks he would cull from the flock?
"I have a better plan," he said. "I have made a list
of my most successful tenants. Today I shall ask each if they have any
suitable family members for my consideration."
She ground her heels into the marble floor. "Have you gone mad?"
He batted aside a particularly quarrelsome plume. "My tenants are
among the most prestigious and successful merchants and tradespeople
in London. This is the most efficient way to obtain a bride who meets
"Specifications!" Her shout made the Swann urn in the foyer
chime on its plaster pedestal. "You speak as if finding a wife
is exactly like buying another one of your blasted buildings!"
"But it is." He began to mark off the points on his fingers.
"First I identify the area in which I propose to make my investment.
In this case, it is the City, metaphorically speaking. Next, I investigate
each of the available properties in the chosen area, carefully inspecting
the soundness of each, the structure, the foundation, the upper stories..."
he tailed off, his face burning. His wretched cravat began to throttle
"Do continue, darling." She looked up, her blue eyes wide
in an innocent expression.
"Never mind." He lowered his voice in an attempt to dampen
Bartlett's fascination. "You know perfectly well what I mean."
"Yes dear, you were examining the girl's foundations." She
patted his arm. "I may have misjudged you when I accused you of
having become dull."
Bartlett stood at the front door, holding Gabriel's beaver hat and gloves
and avoiding his eyes. Gabriel snatched his beaver and jammed it on
"Of course," his mother added as she trailed him down the
front steps, "I am comforted by the knowledge that all gentlemen
make lists of requirements they wish to have in a bride. Then they meet
a nice young girl, fall in love, and the list goes out the window."
"The selection of my bride is not a matter to be left to whim and
windows." He climbed into the carriage and slammed the door. The
woman was impossible. A man would have to be dicked in the nob to want
the kind of wife his mother's help would get him.
He thumped on the roof and fell back against the leather squabs as the
carriage jolted forward into the morning traffic. Every requirement
on his list was essential to a perfect marriage and he would never yield
a single one. Compromise was the refuge of the weak-minded. It was a
pity his mother was too stubborn to see it.