David Caulfield, Earl of Clarion is The Upright Son, so horrified by his father’s profligate life that he spent his entire adult life doing what is proper and correct. At friends’ urging he has been pursuing a perfectly proper young woman, Lady Estelle, to be his countess. The only problem is, no sparks fly, even when he kisses her. For once in his life, he is determined to do what he wants rather than what the world expects. Now the woman he wants, Delia Fitzwallace, has run from the ballroom.
A waltz! What was David thinking? The last waltz should have been Estelle’s. Not his gauche neighbor’s. A friend, as Delia claimed to be, should have curbed his inappropriate impulse. Except David did not act on impulse. Ever. What then? Only one thing was clear. She could never be simply his friend.
Hints of whisper followed her. One voice rang clear out of the cloud. Lady Cranwick. “One has to question the man’s judgement. If he thinks he can aspire…” The sound faded away as Delia stepped into the hall and attempted to breathe, one hand clutching her breast bone. Oh David, what have you done?
She ducked into the breakfast room, dark and abandoned, leaned against the wall, and let common sense take over. Whatever people saw or thought they saw back in that ballroom, it was only a dance. David was a man and an earl. He would be forgiven his impulse. Lady Cranwick and her ilk had no real power to hurt his chances. They would savage her, of course, with Awbury’s venom poisoning her standing, but that didn’t matter. It wasn’t even particularly new.
She walked to the window, staring out into the courtyard garden, lost in shadows. It might be best if she stayed away for the rest of the party. Jeffrey would, of course, still attend and people would think it odd. There would be talk either way. Which would hurt David least?
“I thought I saw you come in here.” David’s rich voice vibrated through her. The door clicked closed behind him.
“What are you thinking?” she hissed. “Your guests expect to see you presiding over the gathering with dignity, not chasing after Awbury’s hoydenish daughter-in-law.” Her voice faltered as he came closer.
“Maddy has led them to a spectacular midnight dessert display, Brynn is entertaining all and sundry with an amusing story, and Lucy has Irma Barrington and Hester plotting sedate Sunday games for tomorrow while slyly implying they will be anything but. The older ladies are torn between outrage and laughter. The gentlemen are fixed on the food and champagne. No one will miss me.”
He stood very close now, his face lost in shadows, and Delia froze to the spot, unable to move. Tender fingers brushed her cheek driving the rhythm of her heart to a gallop.
“You mustn’t, David,” she whispered.
His hand brushed over her ear and touched her hair. “Why?” he asked.
She tipped her head to avoid his hand but couldn’t walk away. “Be sensible. Lady Estelle will make you a perfect wife. Carrying on with me may not bring you scorn, but…”
“Carrying on, Delia? Is that what we’re doing.” He raised her chin with the crook of a finger.
“No! Nor will we. I won’t be your mistress. I can’t.” Her voice broke on the last word.
“I know. It is one of the things I respect about you.” He ran his thumb over her lips. “One of the things I love.”
He covered her gasp with his mouth, their breaths mingling. He nibbled her lower lip and ran his tongue along the upper, and Delia melted with each touch until, boneless in his arms, she accepted what he offered, opened to his exploration of her mouth, and returned his kisses.
He kissed from the corner of her mouth to her ear, tickling her with his tongue. Hot and restless, her hands moved of their own volition under his coat, frustrated by his embroidered waistcoat. When his mouth moved down her neck to her shoulder, she began to undo the buttons.
Her gown gapped, and she realized the ties in the back had become loose. When did my oh so proper earl become so skilled at undoing ladies’ garments? Before she could consider it, he pulled her neckline down, exposing her breasts and all rational thought fled. He saluted one with gentle fingers and an urgent mouth and then the other, sending her into a maelstrom of sensation before crushing her against him, her aching breast against the heat of his fine linen shirt, as he devoured her mouth with his.
“No, ladies. I’m sure this is the other door to the dining room,” Lady Cranwick chirped, just outside the breakfast room, her voice shattering Delia’s world.
About the Book
A notorious will left David, the very proper Earl of Clarion, with a crippled estate and dependents. He’s the one left to pick up the pieces while caring for others—his children, his tenants, and the people of Ashmead. He cares for England, too. Now that the estate has been put to right, he is free to pursue his political ambitions. But loneliness weighs him down. Then he meets his new neighbor.
Her uninhibited behavior stuns him. Why can’t he get her out of his mind?
Happily widowed Lady Delia Fitzwallace revels in her newly rented cottage, surrounded by flowers and the wonder of nature, thrilled to free her three rambunctious children from the city of Bristol and let them enjoy the countryside to the fullest. If only she can avoid offending her very proper neighbor, the earl, when their children keep pulling her into scrapes.
She has none of the qualities he needs in a countess. Is she exactly what he needs as a man?