A dutiful woman, a desirable man ...
An artist with a keen eye for the beauty surrounding her — yet none for her own — duty-bound Claudia is resigned to marrying the man of her domineering father's choosing. First, though, she must resign the job she has held in secret as society illustrator "C. J. Prattley." But dashing newspaper owner Derrick Middleton is instantly captivated by Claudia's talent, wit, and sweet nature — and the passionate inner fire she unknowingly possesses. He has other plans for this extraordinary woman.
Until Claudia first entered his London office, Derrick cared for only his paper and the wild bachelor life he has long enjoyed. Now saving Claudia from a dismal marriage — and winning her for himself — becomes his main concern. But courting a woman like Claudia will not be an easy undertaking for a handsome cynic who has always believed true love is not for him — especially after they succumb to an indiscretion that could lead two hearts to ruin ... of a most delicious variety.
Claudia inhaled three deep breaths, hoping tocalm her addled insides, but her stomachstill churned. If this was the right decision, whydid she not feel relaxed and assured? Whether herbody believed this to be the right decision was ofno consequence. No lady of good breeding andany shred of propriety would continue to hold apaying position, especially with a marriage proposalon the horizon.
Which was why she currently sat in a carriagejust outside the office of London's Illustrated Times,resignation letter in hand. Of course, learning thather father despised Derrick Middleton and all his paper stood for had aided her decision to resign.Her father would view her employment with thepaper as a betrayal. Emerson Prattley expected hisdaughter to be loyal at any cost, and she was nothingif not loyal. So with feigned confidence, sheopened the carriage door.
Derrick Middleton stared at his office door, mutteringto himself. One more interruption todayand he might fire everyone. Of course, that wouldonly serve to prove to the Conservatives that hewas the bastard they thought him to be. Whichwas not true, at least concerning his employees.His workers regarded him highlyâthey enjoyedtheir positions here, they smiled, they came towork every day.
But today had been a bloody mess. All day, onething after another. One of his journalists brokehis leg, and his assignments had to be handed offto another. His wood carvers sat idle, waiting forthe delayed shipment of boxwood to arrive beforethey began next week's woodcuts. They couldsubstitute another wood, but boxwood workedbest for the illustrations.
And now last month's books were not reconcilingperfectly. The paper still had moneyâplentyof itâbut Derrick wanted his books perfect, downto the last shilling.
He would have to rewrite all the entries and dothe calculations himself. Pressure nagged at histemples. He pinched the bridge of his nose to relievethe strainâto no avail.
He poked the quill back into the well, then wentto stand at the window. The street below him bustledwith activity. People milled about and went inand out of the shops. Awell-dressed lady with anenormous hat decorated with at least a dozenflowers exited a carriage, stopped to smooth herskirts, then looked up as if she knew he stood inthe window above her. He took a step back.
The pain in his head drummed against hisscalp. Perhaps he should tell Mason he was takingthe rest of the afternoon off. He could go homeand . . . and what? Worry about the goings onfrom home. No, he needed to get back to the booksand figure out the problem. Perhaps his daywould get better. No sooner had he taken a seatthan Mason opened the door.
"Mr. Middleton, there is a lady here to see you."The lady from the carriage. "Who is she, andwhat does she want?""She didn't say. Although she did say it wasmost important she meet with you.""She didn't say? I believe it is your job as my assistantto ask such questions."Mason just stood there.
He wasn't a very good assistant, but he was literateand came to work every day. Most days hespoke politely to visitors. And Derrick trustedhimâthat was the main reason he hadn't firedMason. Trustworthy employees were hard tocome by.
"Very well, send her in." He continued tostand behind his desk until she breached thedoorway in a flurry of pale blue ruffles andbows. It was indeed the lady from the carriage,and her hat was even larger this close up. Perplexinghow a woman of her stature could holdit up, as she couldn't have been much over fivefeet tall.
"Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Middleton. Iapologize for not making an appointment aheadof time, but I didn't think you would see me if youknew who I was."
"I see. Why did you think I wouldn't...