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The Reluctant Guardian by Jo Manning
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The Reluctant Guardian (1999)

by Jo Manning

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I dedicate this work of fiction to the memory of Earle Connette, a gentleman, a scholar, and a truly wonderful person, who encouraged me to write the story of the Mary Martin Rebow letters -- the story that became THE RELUCTANT GUARDIAN.
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Where he is at present, I cannot say, for without giving me the least hint or leaving any Message, he went out before I was out of Bed, Dressed very Smart, & I have not seen or heard anything from him since, but I fancy he will not return tonight, for he has taken his Night, and Morning Cap & has left one hundred guineas in a little Bag in the Harpsichord Drawer ...
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Colonel Sir Isaac Rebow, traumatized by his parents' unhappy marriage, vowed never to be legshackled; he's successfully avoided the parson's mousetrap. Enter his errant uncle, caperwitted squire Matthew Martin, who disappears from his Chelsea townhouse late one night, abandoning his two daughters. Isaac must step in as guardian until Matthew reappears, a situation not at all to his liking.

Mary Martin, the elder sister, is stubborn, independent, and strong-willed. She's also been in love with her handsome cousin forever, but he's never deigned to notice her. Chafing under his reluctant guardianship, they cross swords immediately and often. Lady Sophia Rowley, one of the ton's most beautiful and ruthless women, determined to lead Isaac to the altar when her ailing husband dies, further complicates matters. A situation in Isaac's library leads to an offer of marriage, an offer Mary refuses. She adores him, but how can she enter into a loveless union, thinking his affections are otherwise engaged? She has no idea he's mad for her-he's hidden his feelings so well. Meanwhile, her father turns up, plunging them into a dangerous series of events that reach their climax at bucolic Alresford Hall, where Mary has retired to reconsider what she believes is Isaac's reluctant proposal.

[retrieved from Amazon 4/20/2012]
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When his errant uncle disappears one night, Isaac, a confirmed bachelor, must step in as guardian of his two daughters, one of whom has been in love with her handsome cousin forever.

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