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Miss Merton's Last Hope (Miss Mayhem series #4)

Miss Merton's Last Hope (Miss Mayhem series #4)

Never-to-wed Melanie Merton had a knack for repelling suitors, that is until neighbor Walter George got close enough to learn her shocking secret. Although Melanie assures him there's no hope, Walter can't convince himself to give up on the promise of true love.

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Main Tropes

  • Beach Romance
  • Best Friend's Brother
  • Opposites Attract


Over the years, Melanie Merton has used every trick and ruse to repel overeager gentlemen callers without ever revealing the real reason she won’t say yes to an offer of marriage. When neighbor Walter George jumps to her defense against slurs cast by suitor number twelve, he also pries into her past—uncovering the circumstances around a tragic loss in her childhood and her aversion to being touched by anyone. But even protective Walter must be kept at a distance for his own good, because despite a growing attraction between them, Melanie must deny him too.

Unlike other men his age in Brighton, Walter George hadn’t considered Melanie Merton for a wife because he was convinced he’d never have a chance to impress his haughty neighbor. But that was before he understood her better, before he uncovered why she kept friends and suitors alike at bay. The right husband could restore the woman he sees into some semblance of the fun-loving child of his memory, but would Walter stand a chance or become just another unlucky suitor?

Intro to Chapter One

High overhead, seagulls squawked but the chill in the air marked the approach of the cold season. The ocean was quiet today, but it wouldn’t be that way for long. Winter was coming and the old fishermen predicted a harsh season ahead. Walter George relished the idea of many a night home alone reading a good book, preferably his sister’s next, and writing to friends after they left for their distant homes while the wind rattled his windows. “It’s going to be quiet around here soon.”

“Not so quiet with us remaining.” Valentine Merton grinned. “Julia and I talked it over last night and have decided we will stay for Christmas. My parents need more time to accept our marriage.”

During the last summer, Valentine had accepted the challenge of racing Julia to prove that a woman could swim as fast as a man, and lost. While he had not suffered for being beaten by a mere slip of a girl, Julia had certainly not been celebrated for her success. She had been ostracized and criticized by all and sundry. Their marriage last month had lessened the scandal somewhat, but still, not everyone was prepared to let the matter rest, especially Valentine’s parents.

Mrs. Julia Merton was lovely but her habit of unconventional behavior still turned heads, even among friends. “I had hoped your sister could convince them to accept the marriage and that would be the end of it.”

To everyone’s surprise, particularly Walter’s, Melanie Merton, Valentine’s younger sister, had been a staunch supporter of the match.

“There is still some ways to go.” Valentine grinned. “I have to hand it to Melanie, she knew just what to write to bring them around to at least be civil. ‘She just needs the correct example to follow’. Despite the promises in her weekly letters, there hasn’t been one lesson to improve Julia since father left Brighton.”

Walter smothered a laugh at Valentine’s imitation of his sister’s voice. The man was a long way off. “It must be crowded for a pair of newlyweds to have a sister underfoot.”

“They seem to rub together well enough. I never imagined Melanie would hand the running of the house over to my wife so easily, but I suppose it helps that we are hardly ever at home during the day. The shop is another reason for missing out on the family festivities, if you could call them that.”

Walter would not like to spend a Christmas with the elder Mertons himself. From all he’d discerned of their gatherings, they were as merry as having a tooth pulled. “I have rarely seen you pair except in the evenings or early morning. It pleases me that you’re both so dedicated.”

“I must earn a living, and I want to.” Valentine glanced at him slyly as they strolled along. “And unfortunately, I have the most overbearing landlord to satisfy. Such a taskmaster he is. Never gives a fellow a moment of peace.”

Since he was the landlord, the new owner of Valentine’s building, Walter let the complaint roll off his shoulders. “I’ve come by less often than once a week, thank you very much.”

“I know.” Valentine smiled slowly and glanced about them. “Do you know the last month has been the most satisfying of my life?”

“You do seem uncommonly content.” Walter glanced away. The man was positively smug of late. Not that he blamed him one bit. He was newly married.

He sighed a little wistfully then shook off the sensation that he was the odd man out. He was healthy. He was wealthy. He had no need for anything except perhaps a little companionship now and then.

Valentine rubbed his hands together briskly. “All I need next is to see my sister happily married.”

Walter nodded, as he was expected to do when the subject of marrying sisters off came up in conversation. His own sister had married a neighbor and friend so he had plenty of experience in this field.

He considered the lady under discussion. She was lovely in her own way, tall, perfect complexion, a beauty, but she wasn’t the least bit approachable. “A tricky proposition, in your case. How many proposals has she turned down?”

“Oh, eleven, I think it is.”

Walter grunted, surprised by the number. He’d only heard of a handful of local beaus who had been turned down. “That many?”

“Be a friend and don’t spread that about. I’m still hoping for one more who might be acceptable before we get to unlucky number thirteen.”

Walter shook his head, unable to fathom why Miss Melanie Merton was so damn particular about choosing a husband. He was acquainted with a few of her former suitors and they were all quite decent sorts and intelligent enough to please even her father. None had possessed a great fortune or a title. “Maybe number twelve will suit.”

“One can only hope. Otherwise she might find herself with a husband not of her own choosing. Now I’m married, our parents might turn their attention on her, and I shudder to think whom they’d pick for her amongst the Oxford crowd. She should find someone she at least likes.” Valentine frowned. “Not that I want to send her packing again, but I don’t like that she is alone so much.”

Valentine had sent Melanie away before his marriage. The few months she’d been gone had changed her, in Walter’s opinion.

“You know, I’m damned if I can work out why she refused the last one. The one before I sent her away,” Valentine clarified. “Alexander Anderson was a decent sort, nice tidy fortune; she seemed easy with his family too. We were all expecting something more, but when the time came, she turned him down like all the others.”

Walter had expected that match too. “Has she fallen in love with someone you wouldn’t approve of?”

Valentine started to chuckle. “I’ve never had one moment of worry about her behavior, so no, I have no fears that she’s set her cap for an unsuitable fellow.”

Across the beach, two of the Clemens boys were playing catch. A fast toss sailed past the smallest one, rolled toward Walter, and fell inside a footprint in the sand. Since the boy didn’t immediately see where it stopped, Walter ran forward a few steps and picked it up. “Missing this, Jimmy?”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. George,” Jimmy said before closing the gap between them. “I would have been skinned alive if I’d lost it.”

He ruffled the boy’s hair. “I doubt it will come to that. Better run along now and finish your game.”

Valentine shook his head. “I can never remember all the Clemenses’ names.”

“Well, I pay attention, and I have spent far more time here than you have.” He knew everyone in Brighton, and when a new family arrived he made it a point to introduce himself as soon as possible. “So you’ve never caught your sister and a suitor misbehaving?”

“I’m starting to wonder if she considers men in that fashion.”

“Then she’s nothing like my sister.” Walter smiled, thinking of Imogen and her unabashed interest in the male species, one in particular—her husband, Sir Peter Watson. “I overlooked a great deal because I was certain she and Sir Peter were headed for the altar. And if they’d not ended up there of their own accord, well, there is a nice reef offshore where I could have dumped our baronet for a very long swim as he rethought the consequences of his actions.”

Valentine laughed as he pulled on his boots then slung his damp towel over his shoulder. “At least with Imogen, you knew if the right man came round she’d make her feelings clear to you. And I highly doubt your threat against Sir Peter. You’re doing it much too brown, my friend.”

He wasn’t quite as affable as everyone liked to make out, but he didn’t care to argue the point. He had been very serious about that reef. If Peter had hurt Imogen’s feelings, toyed with her affections a second time, he’d been ready to put the man in this place. “Imogen has never held back on expressing an opinion, but about Sir Peter she was particularly stubborn.”

“Much like Melanie.” Valentine stopped. “Do you remember how close they used to be?”

Melanie and Imogen had once been the best of friends. Inseparable as children. “Long time ago that was. They hardly speak now.”

“I wish…” Valentine stared out to sea. “I sometimes wish Melanie and Imogen were still on good terms. She was happy then. Do you recall what they fought about?”

Walter glanced at Valentine sharply. “There was no disagreement. Melanie simply stopped speaking to Imogen. One summer they were as close as two peas in a pod and the next time she came to Brighton, Melanie acted as if she was too important for my sister.” And for everyone else. “Imogen cried for weeks because of those snubs.”

“I’m sorry,” Valentine murmured. “I don’t remember why she would have done it either.”

Since fathoming Melanie Merton’s mind wasn’t in his best interests, he turned for home.

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Miss Mayhem Series

Welcome to the Miss Mayhem series, where four adventurous young ladies match wits and capture the hearts of with their neighbors in the seaside town of Brighton.