Charming Sir Charles (Dashing Widows Book 5)

By: Anna Campbell

Chapter One

* * *

Hanover Square, London, May 1829

When London’s handsomest man married a lovely Dashing Widow, half the world turned out to witness the event.

Sally Cowan, Countess of Norwood, stared in astonishment at the surging crowds around St. George’s. She cast a doubtful glance across the open barouche to where Amy Mowbray, today’s bride, sat, resplendent in heavy silk the color of new butter. “Oh, dear, I hope the carriage gets through the crush.”

“Of course it will.” Amy smiled back with the poise that was new since she’d fallen in love with Lord Pascal. “Nothing’s going to spoil today.”

It turned out Amy was right. The crowds gave a loud and sustained cheer as the bride and her attendants arrived. The mass of people parted to form a clear path toward the row of pillars across the church’s entrance. They cheered again when Sally, Amy’s sister Helena, and her sister-in-law Morwenna stepped down, and more enthusiastically still when Amy stood before them in her full glory.

Despite her miserable experience as a wife, Sally loved weddings. Especially big, extravagant ones where the bride and groom were deliriously in love. They reminded her that not all men were ignorant swine like the late Lord Norwood, and that not every marriage was a grim ordeal like hers had been.

She had no interest in taking another husband, but she very much approved of her friends finding their perfect matches. And today’s wedding was undoubtedly a perfect match. She’d been looking forward to this ever since the start of the season, when Amy caught the dashing Lord Pascal’s eye.

“Pascal will be dazzled,” Sally said. “Amy, you’re a vision.”

“Thank you,” Amy said. “You know, I have you to thank for today. If you hadn’t convinced me to come to London and kick up my heels, I’d still be whispering sweet nothings to my Herefords.”

“Instead of to your besotted bridegroom,” Sally said in a teasing tone. “Believe me, I take full credit for how events turned out.”

“You do look lovely, Amy.” Morwenna’s dark blue eyes glittered with unshed tears.

Sally caught Morwenna’s hand and pressed it in silent comfort. Inevitably this must bring back memories of her own wedding to Captain Robert Nash, a union   which ended tragically when Robert drowned off the coast of South America.

“No tears, Morwenna,” Helena, Lady West, said, although her eyes were suspiciously bright. “Otherwise Amy will run off and find some cattle to talk to, instead of staying here and getting married.”

Amy, famous for her farming expertise, stood uncharacteristically docile, while Sally twitched at her skirts to straighten them. “You know, the dairy cows in St. James’s Park aren’t far away.”

“Amy…” Sally said in warning.

“Don’t worry, Sally and Hel.” Amy gave a gurgle of happy laughter. “I’m not going anywhere. Not even the discovery of a new disease in beef cattle could lure me away from Pascal today.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Silas Nash, Lord Stone, strode up to them and kissed his youngest sister’s cheek. “Good morning, Helena, Morwenna, and Sally. You look beautiful, Amy.”

Amy smiled at Silas, and Sally again noticed the strong resemblance between brother and sister. Both tall and tawny and striking, in contrast to Helena’s flashing dark good looks.

“Thank you. You’ve scrubbed up pretty well yourself.” Amy sniffed ostentatiously and gave Silas a smile. “Not a hint of compost, I’m delighted to note.”

Silas, a renowned botanist, laughed without resentment. “Caro checked before she let me out.” As ever when he mentioned his beloved wife, his expression warmed. “And she banned me from entering my greenhouse this morning.”

“Bravo, Caroline,” Sally said drily.

She stifled a pang of envy when she saw how joy had transfigured the usually prosaic Amy. Sally had never been in love, and couldn’t imagine she ever would be, now she reached the advanced age of thirty-one.

At seventeen, her parents had pushed her into marrying a man she’d quietly grown to despise, although she’d always presented a brave face to the world. Norwood’s death in a riding accident four years ago had released her to a widowhood that she’d thoroughly enjoyed. And intended to enjoy even more.

But observing Amy today, Sally couldn’t help recognizing that freedom wasn’t the only thing a woman could hope for in this life.

Unsuitable thoughts, when she should be devoting her attention to her friend’s nuptials.

Silas extended his arm to Amy. “Ready?”

“Eager.” She slid her gloved hand into the crook of his elbow.

“Well, you have done this before,” Helena said slyly.

Amy’s smile was beatific. “No, I haven’t.”

Even cynical Helena wasn’t proof against Amy’s happiness, and her voice softened. “No, indeed you haven’t.”

Her heart brimming with elation for Amy and regret that such a transformative love had forever passed her by, Sally firmed her hold on her bouquet of violets and lily-of-the-valley. She took her place in front of Silas and Amy. Helena and Morwenna lined up behind the bride. A flourish of music from inside the church, and they moved forward.

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