Jessica Allen took a deep breath and sat down on the couch in the parlor next to Brian, her twin brother. She knew their father was about to give them the bad news. She glanced at Brian who shook his head. He appeared just as shocked as she was that their father had called them into the room. Their father sat in the chair across from them with a serious look on his face. She didn't want to hear what he would say next but knew she didn't have a choice. She was aware of the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner of the room as she waited for him to speak.



Brian, Jessica, this isn't easy to say. Their father paused.

I'm bankrupt.

What?  She couldn't believe her ears.

My business crumbled, he explained. I have no more money, and my investments weren't enough to cover my losses. She had a hard time understanding how his tax consulting business went bankrupt when he had just experienced a huge profit earlier that year.



He looked at Brian. At least you still have your job at the college and your investments are continuing to do well. Jessica knew that Brian found little consolation in that fact. Brian didn't want to see their father's business fail any more than she did. I can help you get back on your feet, Brian said.  We can find a way to get your business up and running again.



He shook his head. I appreciate the offer, son, but my reputation has been destroyed in this town. I don't know why or how, but it has. No one will want to do business with me. He turned to her. Jessica, I have to make sure your future is going to be secure so I have arranged a marriage between you and Leo Monroe. He is wealthy and will provide a good future for you. She panicked. Why would you do that? I just accepted an offer to let Harrison court me.



I'm sorry, Jessica. I know you were looking forward to getting to know Harrison but his father doesn't want him to marry you unless I provide his son with a sizable dowry on your behalf, and I can't do that. I had to find you, someone, as soon as possible. I'll be losing the house next week, so I don't have time to wait. I discussed the matter with Leo Monroe's uncle and it's

been arranged. You will marry Leo on Saturday.



But...but that's three days from now. She struggled to make sense of everything her father was telling her.

I know it's a shock. He sighed. I wish there was something else I could do, but I have to make sure that you will be able to enjoy the same standard of living you are accustomed to.



No, you don't have to do that. Her mind desperately sought out another solution. I can manage without the wealth we have had. I can find a job. There are women in our town who




Even if we did that, there is no way Harrison will court you. His father is determined that he will marry a wealthy young lady. Besides, if you worked, then word would get out that you have no money, and there aren't many men who will be willing to marry a twenty-four-year-old woman without money.



Let me work, she insisted. I'll pull my weight. I've had sufficient schooling to do a decent job. Surely, just because I'm a woman, it shouldn't mean I can't find suitable employment. I don't care if people find out what happened. It certainly beats marriage to a man she hardly knew.



You will not be as happy as a spinster.



I should be the one to decide that.



He sighed. I hadn't considered you would be opposed to this marriage. I've already made arrangements with Leo's uncle. Leo is looking for a wife who has a good reputation. The news

of my bankruptcy will be well hidden so no one knows the truth. Neither Mr. Monroe nor I wish for anyone to know the reason for the sudden marriage. The official word is that his uncle and I

agreed to this arrangement because, for Leo to receive his trust fund when he turns twenty-five, he must marry. Leo is aware of the arrangement and will stick to the story.



She glanced at Brian who looked as overwhelmed as she felt, but at least he wasn't being forced into a marriage with someone she thought was more boring than watching grass grow. Brian finally spoke. You know that Leo and I are friends. I think a marriage between you two will be a good thing.

Leo's a good man, their father added. He will make you happy.



Why would he agree to marry me? she wondered. We don't even know each other.

He's quite taken with you.

I find that hard to believe.



She could barely recall the times when she did see him. She knew he attended many dinner parties. She had occasionally said hello to him but that was the extent of her conversations with

him. She had overheard him talking with her brother and his topics of interest didn't seem to stray from his investments. She wasn't even sure he knew how to talk about anything else. She couldn't imagine that they had anything in common. She and Harrison were much better suited for one another.



Her father looked sympathetic. I do not wish the spinster's life for you. It is lonely and miserable. I have made an excellent choice for you. Brian turned to her. Leo is fun. You have to give him a chance. He has a good sense of humor. Only to someone who understands the lame investment

jokes he tells, she replied. He also gives the most ridiculous

analogies I've ever heard. He compared a big dog to a horse.



Indeed, he's not the smooth talker that Harrison is, but he is a good friend. He can talk about other things.






Lots of times. You just never paid him any attention.

The only reason he accepted this marriage is that you

two get along.



Their father interrupted them. Leo is better than Harrison. Harrison may seem fascinating but he's selfish. He will ultimately concern himself with what he wants, and though he might want you today, who can tell what he will want in

the future? Marriage is a commitment. It is a choice you make. She groaned. But there should be love too.



Love is a decision a person makes. Leo understands that. He is determined to be the kind of husband that will bless




You're confining me to a life of boredom.

I'll have to arrange something so you two can have a chance to talk. Perhaps you will find that he isn't as dull as you




The knot in her stomach tensed. Her entire world was crumbling down around her and she couldn't seem to stop it.

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