When Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, agrees to help his best friend’s impetuous ward, Lady Clarissa Lindsey, in her time of need, he knows he’s in for trouble. He’s been hunting for someone to wed, and she’ll just get in the way. Although captivated by the witty, free-spirited beauty, he fears she’d be all wrong as a wife… if she would even take such a gruff cynic for her husband. Yet he wants nothing more than to have her for his own.
Clarissa has no intention of marrying anyone — not Edwin, whom she’s sure would be an overbearing husband, and certainly not the powerful French diplomat stalking her. But when matters escalate with the diplomat, she chooses Edwin’s gallant offer of a marriage between friends in hopes that it will deter her stalker. She expects nothing more than an amiable union, but their increasingly tempestuous kisses prove more than she bargained for. When her stalker’s vow to expose the lovers’ deepest secrets threatens to destroy their blossoming attraction, will their tenuous bond withstand public ruin, or will Edwin lose all that’s important to him to protect his bride?
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Mama said, “A fortune is always of consequence. Which is why my late husband made sure that our children were well provided for. Very well.” She nudged Clarissa none too subtly. “Eh, my dear?”
Oh, Lord. Mama would probably give up her best fur to see Clarissa snag a duke’s son, youngest of the bunch or no. Particularly since Clarissa kept refusing the suits of older sons.
Thankfully, she was saved from more matchmaking by the sound of waltz music.
“Forgive me, Major,” Clarissa said hastily, “but I promised Lord Blakeborough the first waltz.”
“Lucky fellow,” the officer said with a frown.
“Lucky, indeed.” Edwin knew perfectly well she was lying, but fortunately he didn’t let on. He simply offered her his arm and led her off.
As soon as they took the floor, she set out to appease him. “I’m sorry for the subterfuge, but —”
“It’s fine.” He led her through the steps with typical precision. “I suppose I’ll have more luck finding a wife if I practice the usual ballroom sports.”
“You don’t require practice.”
His gaze sharpened on her. “No need to flatter me. I know my limits.”
Clearly he was still annoyed over their little exchange. “I mean it, Edwin. You’re not the most poetic of dancers, but you keep time well, don’t tread on my toes and never miss a step. That’s more than I can say for plenty of men.”
“Take care,” he drawled. “You might lead me to think you actually like me.”
“I do like you. Sometimes.” She thrust out her chin. “But I also can’t resist provoking you. You get so deliciously annoyed. And you take my remarks far too seriously.”
A grudging smile crossed his lips. “Warren told me much the same thing.”
“Didn’t you believe him?”
“I never know what to believe when it comes to you.”
“Well, believe this at least: I think you’re a perfectly accomplished dancer. I certainly prefer you over the major.”
That brought his gruff manner back. “I don’t know how you can endure that fool.”
“Unfortunately, enduring fools is what a woman must do to have a little fun.”
His hand tensed on her waist. “You have a peculiar notion of what’s fun. Wouldn’t you prefer a quiet conversation at dinner or a stroll about a museum to dancing with idiots?”
“I happen to enjoy dancing. And sadly, I require a partner for it. Thank goodness even idiots can be good dancers.”
He glanced over to where Major Wilkins was still standing with her mother. “Are you sure that he knows you’re merely amusing yourself with him?”
“Well, if Mama hadn’t started blathering on about my dowry, he would have known it when I refused to dance with him again. She’s bound and determined to get me married, and any fool will do, apparently.”
“In this case, I hope you ignore her.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not about to marry a man who doesn’t know when to stop ogling my bosom.”
His mouth thinned into a hard line. “He was ogling your bosom?”
“Oh, don’t turn into a watchdog again. Men ogle women’s bosoms all the time. A female can wear the most innocuous gown ever, and some fellow will stare at her chest as if waiting for her clothes to rip open and reveal her nakedness. And when she’s wearing a ball gown… ”
She trailed off, remembering a night she’d rather forget.
His hand tightened on hers. “I don’t do that, do I?”
Forcing her attention back to him, she smiled. “Of course not. You’re a gentleman. Besides, you have no interest in my bosom.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. I’m not dead, you know.” As if to prove it, he let his gaze dip down for the merest of moments.
If she’d seen one ounce of leering in that quick look, anything to indicate that he thought of her disrespectfully, she would have been disappointed. But his look was more akin to hunger. No, not hunger — yearning. As if he saw what he wanted, yet knew he couldn’t have it.
About the author: Sabrina Jeffries is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of several Regency-set historical romance series, including the Royal Brotherhood, The School for Heiresses, The Hellions of Halstead Hall, The Duke’s Men and The Sinful Suitors. Whatever time is not spent writing in a coffee-fueled haze is spent traveling with her husband and adult autistic son or indulging in one of her passions — jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, music and costume parties. With more than 8 million books in print in 20 different languages, the North Carolina author never regrets tossing aside a budding career in academics for the sheer joy of writing fun fiction and hopes that one day a book of hers will end up saving the world. She always dreams big.