A merchant's daughter and a destitute nobleman. Can a marriage of convenience solve their problems?
Miss Emma Brentry is happy with life, but she feels the time has come to marry. Her father, a wealthy glass merchant, has expectations of grandchildren, and Emma doesn't wish to disappoint him. Reluctantly, and somewhat halfheartedly, she begins the search for a husband.
Mr. Aaron Trent, a gentleman of noble birth, returns to England fresh from the Napoleonic war with a scar and limp to prove it. During his absence, his estate, Windhurst Hall, has been pledged by his cousin at the gaming tables. He is now in search of the necessary funds with which to buy back his home.
Traveling to Bath, Emma finds herself stranded on the road and is compelled to stay the night at The Stag and Hounds posting inn. She encounters Aaron, an attentive, handsome stranger, who offers her some much-needed assistance. Instant attraction is felt by both, and as dusk falls, Emma makes Aaron an offer he finds difficult to refuse.
With his pride standing in the way, can Aaron stay true to his principles, or will he, with reckless, passionate abandonment, succumb to Emma's powers of persuasion?
Content Warning: contains explicit, sensual love scenes
"And what exactly were you doing in Bristol?" Aaron asked.
"Oh, there was plenty to entertain. Of an evening, we were often to be found at the Assembly Rooms on Prince Street, where balls and concerts are given. We went daily for walks on The Downs near Clifton. Clifton is a lovely place to visit, and there is such wonderful architecture to be found there. Some of the buildings are just as magnificent, if not nicer, than the Royal Crescent in Bath. But if you are asking what was my true purpose in going to Bristol…well, I must confess, I had been sent there to find a husband."
Aaron's grip on the reins slackened, and the horses' speed dropped to a steady trot. "A husband?"
"Yes, sir. Actually, unfashionable as it may appear, I'm quite happy without one. I have no need for a man, but my father thinks I ought to have a spouse. He believes I require someone to tame me and bring me to order…and the sooner, the better."
Upon seeing Aaron's raised brow and startled reaction at her frank confession, Emma chuckled. It was clear she had surprised him.
Unable to resist the opportunity to shock further, she asked, "Would you care to consider that vacant position? I have become quite reconciled to taking a husband. I believe we could have what is known as a marriage of convenience."
Over the years, Emma had callously brushed aside many eager suitors. None had interested her. And although content with life the way it was, she realized the time had indeed come to find a husband. The only problem was, her friends had married most of the eligible gentlemen, and she'd now been left with a poor selection to choose from.
"What?" Aaron asked. "Are you jesting? Or are you in all seriousness asking me to consider becoming your husband?"
With a crack of the whip, the horses sprang forward.
"Well, yes…now that you mention it, perhaps if you are available, it would be an excellent notion if we did marry. You see, my father sent me to stay with my sister, Dorothea, in the hope of being rid of me. And although I am older and ought to have found a husband before she did, I have not. Dorothea's been married to Mr. Marks four years, and Papa was so certain she could find a husband for me amongst their many friends. It was believed she was familiar with the etiquette for matchmaking. But as you might have guessed, I am now returning to Bath unclaimed and unbetrothed."
To her enjoyment, Aaron smiled and entered into the light-hearted nature of her banter.
"And why do you think no one will have you?" he asked. "You seem such a pleasant person, Miss Brentry. You are well-presented, well-spoken, and if I might add, you are reasonably pleasing to the eye."
Emma threw back her head and laughed heartily.
"Mr. Trent, I must say I like your honesty. Thank you for not saying my beauty is unsurpassed, as so many men falsely declare. Because if you had, I would not have believed you. Had you professed my loveliness to be beyond compare, or my figure to be complete perfection, I would deem you to be untrustworthy. Men can be such tedious bores when offering false platitudes and faux compliments."
Emma knew herself to be of average looks and was thankful Aaron wasn't a toad-eater. She detested untruths, especially when it concerned flattering banalities about her character or appearance. And so far, Aaron had proffered neither of these things.
"Not wishing to bore you, Miss Brentry, I will not try to persuade you otherwise. Instead, I must insist you tell me why your father wishes you to marry so urgently."
The phaeton turned a sharp corner, and Emma was once again thrown against Aaron's side as the horses raced on. Undaunted by her closeness, he simply straightened the carriage and continued along the rutted lane until the crossroads was reached and the turn was made for The Stag and Hounds. They had almost arrived at the inn.
"I believe he wishes me to marry so he might have a grandson."
"So far, Dorothea has only produced girls, and as Papa has no heir to inherit, he is keen for me to give him a successor."
"His successor? To what?" Aaron asked.
"Why…his vast fortune and colossal enterprise of course."
Aaron raised a brow with skepticism. "I have obviously been out of the country for far too long. Enlighten me. Is your father so rich and so noted a gentleman that you assume I must know of his wealth and status?"
"His wealth you might have heard of, but Papa is no gentleman—at least not by birth, and certainly not in the eyes of the ton."
"Is that so?"
"You said I seemed well-presented and well-spoken, but that is due in essence to my education and not a result of my lineage. I attended Miss Witherington's finishing school for young ladies. I have been told I'm part of an abhorrent breed known as a wealthy merchant's daughter."
"I would not have known this to be the case, Miss Brentry. A merchant's daughter, you say?" There was a smile on Aaron's face and laughter was clearly shining in his eyes. He was amused.