[BookStrand Regency Romantic Suspense, HEA]
She can cause scandal just by opening her mouth, whether to say something shocking or steal a kiss from a handsome stranger. To Georgiana Hayward's horror, her despairing family betroths her to a marquess who's hardly England's most eligible bachelor, but is certainly the oldest. Worse, his dashing nephew and outraged heir, Anthony Baxter, is the man she brazenly kissed and secretly desires, but to win him she must remain betrothed to his uncle, and start behaving properly.
A stickler for propriety, Anthony opposes this harebrained match due to decorum, panicked relatives, and especially Georgiana's kiss that's put a chink in his armor. When his efforts to dissuade the notorious hellion leave him frustrated, amused, and falling in love with a woman no one else dares to know, Anthony must shed his dented, cumbersome armor and risk a scandal of his own to claim the heart of this wild vixen.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
He pinned her with a hard, unwavering gaze. “Rest assured he does mean for you to provide him with an heir. That goes without saying.”
“But he confided to me that he cannot—cannot—”
“Well, you know…”
He put the poker aside. “Didn’t he tell you? I can’t imagine your sensibilities are too delicate to repeat what he said?”
“I’m telling you exactly what he said!” she exclaimed. “He never finished the sentence because—well, maybe his sensibilities are too delicate.”
Mr. Baxter turned away to cough, and Georgiana couldn’t help wondering if he was hiding a laugh. She didn’t believe for a minute creaky old Carswell had delicate sensibilities, and she didn’t know him a fraction as well as his nephew surely did.
“Or maybe he really does think my sensibilities are too delicate. He does want to marry me, after all.”
Mr. Baxter coughed again, still keeping his back to her.
“Are you all right, sir? I vow, you cough as much as your uncle.”
He turned to her with a florid face, struggling for composure. “Perhaps it’s the fire. Your chimney might need a good sweep.”
“It was cleaned just before we came up here a month ago,” she said. “I do believe you’re laughing at me, Mr. Baxter.”
“I’m merely scoffing at what you said, Miss Hayward. Surely you’ll agree the idea of either you or my uncle having delicate sensibilities is utterly absurd, which is not to say the two of you suit. Now what did he say?”
“He stated that because of his age and frailty, he cannot—cannot—at which point I told him I understood.”
Mr. Baxter put his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. “You understood he cannot do what?”
“I think you know what,” Georgiana said with thinly veiled impatience. Surely he wasn’t going to make her spell out what he’d spelled out the night they met, just for petty revenge.
He folded his hands behind his back. “Because of his age and frailty, he cannot—cannot—mount a horse and ride to hounds anymore. He cannot dance ‘Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot’ because of his gout. He cannot play Mozart’s ‘Turkish March’ on the pianoforte because of the rheumatism in his fingers. He cannot read Shakespeare’s sonnets to you because of his fading eyesight. And because of his ill-fitting false teeth, he cannot eat freshly picked apples anymore. Now they must be chopped up and cooked into mush. For all you know, those were the things he was trying to tell you he cannot do anymore, while you presumed he was speaking of something else entirely.”
With each “He cannot,” Georgiana’s heart dropped a notch till it was now somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach, which might have explained her sudden nausea.
Mr. Baxter cocked a tawny brow. “You did not give him ample opportunity to complete his sentence.”
“But why would he have stammered if he wasn’t referring to—to that? The way I’m stammering about it?”
“Because at his age, he tends to ramble and forget what he’s talking about in the middle of a sentence. On the other hand, he might very well be embarrassed that his apples have to be mashed up and stewed for him as if he were a babe.”
Skeptical, Georgiana said, “What if he should have a heart attack trying to do—that?”
“Eat stewed mashed apples?”
“No, that! What I foolishly assumed he was stammering about.”
Was that the hint of a smile quivering at the corner of that mouth she’d so boldly kissed in London? “A man of any age can have a heart attack, even while eating apples,” he replied. “Regardless, the man will always risk his life for carnal pleasure. And, if he’s hungry enough, apples.”
“Would you risk your life for carnal pleasure?” Georgiana dared to ask.
Now his expression was unmistakably quite solemn again. “It would depend on the woman.”
“Indeed? Then maybe your uncle feels the same way.”
He cocked his head to one side. “Oh, I can assure you he does. And the woman he’s depending on is you.”
Speaking of heart attacks, Georgiana could have sworn hers had just stopped cold in her chest. Even if her would-be husband had no fear of dying in the marriage bed, she didn’t want to risk being responsible for the death of another person, especially when the deaths of her parents already sat on her conscience, crushing it. She had to get out of this betrothal, and she could, simply by slipping the emerald ring off her finger and handing it to Mr. Baxter.
Alas, if she did that, then she’d probably never see him again. She had to stay betrothed to Lord Carswell, if only to keep his nephew around.
Only his nephew was making it terribly difficult. What to do?
She’d do the only thing she could think of, though she hated herself for doing it. Every woman she knew, even her grandmother, swore by this trick for getting out of the most difficult of situations. Unfortunately, that did not include being betrothed to old Carswell.
She collapsed across the sofa and threw an arm over her head.
As far as she could tell, Mr. Baxter didn’t move. Nor did he call for the maid to bring smelling salts. She couldn’t very well open her eyes to see how he was reacting. Then he’d know she was only pretending.
So what was he doing?