In Cecilia Grant's emotionally rich and deeply passionate Regency romance debut, a deal with a rumored rogue turns a proper young woman into . . . A Lady Awakened.
Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.
Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow's weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she'll get her money's worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh--only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can't resist him forever. But could a lady's sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?
From the Paperback edition.
Not once in ten months of marriage had she wished for her husband's demise. Nor would she be glad of the occurrence even for a moment. Even for this moment. To do so would ill become her.
Martha sat straighter in her chair, smoothing her black skirts. One's conduct might owe more to principle than to sentiment at times, admittedly. But principle could be relied upon. Principle steadied a person; braced her up through those same occasions, in fact, where sentiment made only a sluggish kind of mire to sink into.
She finished with her skirts and folded her hands on the tabletop. "Well," she said into the silence of her sunlit parlor. "This is all legally sound, I don't doubt."
Mr. Keene gave a little bow from his place at the table's foot, affording her a glimpse of the bald spot atop his head. He did not meet her eyes and had not done so since beginning to read. A faint sifting sound came from the papers before him, as his hands lined up the corners and made other adjustments of no particular purpose. Really, he ought to stop that.
Across the table her brother sat tight-lipped, his jaw working as if to swallow something of fearsome dimension. His temper, that would be. To his credit, he always did try.
"Speak, Andrew." She knew well enough what he would have to say. "You're liable to do yourself some injury otherwise."
"I'd have done injury to Russell if I'd known what he was about. A thousand pounds!" He spat out the sum like a mouthful of spoiled porridge. "One thousand, from what began as ten! What kind of man would speculate with his wife's settlement?"
A man half lost in drink apparently would. To take just one example. She drew a fortifying breath. "It's not as though I'll be penniless. I'll have my dower."
"No dower house, though, and but a tenth of what you brought into the marriage. I'm sure I'd like to know his reasoning." This, rather pointedly, to Mr. Keene.
"I wouldn't have encouraged the investment myself," came the solicitor's reedy voice as he went on shuffling papers. "But Mr. Russell had a taste for those things. His will with the first Mrs. Russell was similar: her portion invested in private securities, and all the rest arranged in hopes of an heir." An heir, of course. If there was any man on earth more eager to get an heir than her husband had been, she should like to see him.
Well, no. In fact she wouldn't care to see that man at all. She unlaced her hands and touched her fingertips to the tablecloth. Very pretty, this cloth. Linen, from Belgium, and no longer hers.
"I wish I'd had my own solicitors see to your marriage agreement. I would have had nothing to do with this trust." More bad porridge. "Father's people were worse than useless. I ought to have done it myself."
"How could you have managed?" One had neither time nor patience for this sort of nonsense. I wish I'd done this; I would have done that; I ought to have done some other thing. Blind alleys, those were, leading straight to the swamp of sentiment and nowhere else. "You had your hands full settling Father's estate. Those were difficult days for us all. What's done is done. We needn't say any more about it."
Andrew held his tongue, then, but his eyes--large, liquid, dark as day-old coffee--glowed with strong opinions. She angled her head politely away. So indecorous, to let the mood of any moment run rampant across one's face. So undisciplined. For all that she had those same eyes, she'd long since schooled them into...