The Marriage Spell
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An Excerpt from The Marriage Spell by Mary Jo Putney
Ballantine, June 2006
Jack Langdon lives in a Regency world where magic is accepted, but considered vulgar and undesirable by the ton, Jack met his best friends at a school designed to beat the magic out of aristocratic boys with too great an interest in wizardry.
Twenty years later, with magic far behind him, Jack has become an army officer fighting in the Peninsular wars. On leave back home, he suffers mortal injuries in the hunting field. His friends take him to Abigail Barton, a talented healer, and a young woman who has long admired him from afar....
Abby turned to look at Lord Frayne. Lucky Jack Langdon, he was called. From what his friends said, he would never have smiled at her on the streets of Melton Mowbray if he’d known she was a wizard. He probably would have spat and turned away. Yet the man still drew her, both for her memories of him healthy, and for his present vulnerability.
“I want very much for him to live,” she said honestly. “It would be a tragedy for a strong young man who has such a gift for inspiring friendship to die needlessly. But…I don’t know if I can do this. Would it be worth risking my life when I don’t know if there is a real chance of success?” She bit her lip. “My father would be most disappointed if his only daughter killed herself while attempting something beyond her abilities.”
“Is there anything that would make the risk worthwhile? If you wish wealth or independence….” Ashby’s voice trailed off suggestively.
Abby studied Frayne’s unconscious form, aching with frustration that his life was slipping away, and she didn’t think she could save him. It was absurd to be half in love with a man she didn’t even know.
An outrageous thought struck her. More to herself than the men, she murmured, “There is something that would make the risk worthwhile, but it’s not a price Lord Frayne would be willing to pay.”
“Souls can’t be stolen,” Ransom said. “Anything else is open for discussion.”
She laughed at the absurdity of her idea. “Even marriage? I doubt he would do that, even to save his life.” Yet as she gazed at him, she realized that she was willing to risk her life for no payment whatsoever, simply because she wanted him to live. I’m sorry, Papa, but I must do this.
To her shock, Ashby studied her through narrowed eyes. “Ask him. He might surprise you.”
Her jaw dropped. “You can’t be serious. The idea is outrageous.”
Before she could say that she would attempt the healing circle without any extra incentives, Ashby said, “You may be a wizard, but you are also a lady, so it’s not an unreasonable idea. Jack has said a couple of times that he really ought to be looking for a bride, but he can’t face the horrors of the Marriage Mart. What could be easier than a wife who can save his life and doesn’t need courting?”
Taking Abby’s arm, the duke guided her across the room to where Lord Frayne lay. “Jack, we have a proposition for you….”
Each time Jack drifted into darkness, he expected not to emerge from the shadows, for they grew steadily darker, more determined to suck him into ultimate blackness. This time he was pulled back to awareness when Ashby said, “Jack, we have a proposition for you. Miss Barton is a talented healer, and she will undertake the risks of conducting a healing circle in return for the honor of becoming your wife. It seems a fair bargain to me. Do you agree?”
Jack blinked, wondering if he was out of his head. “Are you insane?” he whispered, his voice rasping. “Better dead than enthralled by a damned wyrdling!”
Ashby leaned closer, his green eyes fierce. “That’s the sort of thing one says when healthy. Would you really prefer death to marrying an attractive, intelligent woman of good family?”
His friend had a point, damn him. Now that Death was rolling the dice with his bones, Jack realized that he wasn’t yet ready to make his final throw. But marry a bloody female wyrdling? He blinked fuzzily at the figure standing next to Ashby.
Female, yes, rather extravagantly so. Tall and robust and plain, with brown hair and a square jaw. Not the sort of woman one would notice if passing in the street. He supposed that men who liked Amazons might find her attractive, but Jack had always had a fondness for petite, ethereal blondes. Preferably blondes who didn’t dabble in even the smallest, most acceptable, forms of girlish magic.
And yet, his life was in the balance. He closed his eyes, feeling too weak to make such a decision. Marriage? He wouldn’t want to marry a woman who was a complete stranger even if she wasn’t a wyrdling. Granted, Ashby was generally a good judge of character, but maybe his judgment was warped by the sight of Jack’s dying carcass.
Dying. His body seemed to have disappeared except for the wretched struggle to draw breath. He had seen enough men die in Spain to recognize the signs of mortal injury. Bit by bit, his life force was fading away.
He wasn’t ready yet! Dear God, there were so many things he wanted to do, places he wanted to visit, friends he needed to see! With sudden, desperate ferocity, he craved life like a man perishing in the desert craved water.
He opened his eyes and stared at the Amazon. “If you try and half succeed, would I be left a helpless cripple? I truly would prefer death to that.”
She bent over him, and suddenly she wasn’t an abstract idea but a real woman, one with thoughts and feelings, whose blue eyes became the whole world. They were a pale blue with a dark, navy blue edge. Magical eyes, strange and compelling. “That will not happen, Lord Frayne. Either you will survive and eventually heal, or you will die. You will not be left a broken man dependent on others. I promise you that.”
As their gazes met, he guessed that she understood his unspoken message. If she couldn’t heal him, she would let him go. The knowledge was soothing.
But still…. “You’re a wizard. Can’t marry a wizard.” He almost called her a wyrdling again, but managed to change the word. Didn’t want to be rude.
“Come now, Jack,” Ransom drawled from somewhere outside of the narrow range of Jack’s vision. “Think of how amusing it would be to horrify certain people by doing something so outrageous.” The faintest of trembles sounded in his voice. “You’ve always rather liked being outrageous.”
Jack choked out a laugh. Leave it to Ransom to make the idea of marrying a wizard sound like a delightful last way of thumbing his nose at society. Though the point of marrying this woman—Miss Barton?—was so that he wouldn’t be thumbing his nose for the last time.
He focused on the lady—well, Ashby had implied that she was a lady, and if her father was a baronet she probably was—and asked, “What kind of wife would you be?”
Her dark brows drew together in a straight line as she considered. “An undemanding one. I like life in the country, so I wouldn’t come to London to embarrass you very often.” There was a faint, ironic note in her velvety voice.
The fact of her magic repelled him, and it would be a social embarrassment, but at the moment neither of those facts were compelling. “You propose to save my life. How would you benefit from such a marriage?”
“Doesn’t every woman wish to acquire a title?” The irony thickened.
He would have smiled, except that he didn’t have the strength. “That’s all you want? A title?”
She glanced away. “I…I would also like to have a child.”
An awkward subject. “The wife of a peer’s first duty is to bear an heir.” He closed his eyes, blocking out the sight of her. He had never imagined that a day would come when he must be grateful to still have control of his eyelids.
He was dying, and nothing would change that. Yet for a chance at life, he would take the gamble despite the impossible odds. “If I survive, a child might be managed, God willing. Very well, Miss Barton, we have a bargain. If you restore my life and health, I give my word that you will be my bride.”
Excerpted from The Marriage Spell by Mary Jo Putney. Copyright © 2006 by Mary Jo Putney. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.