An excerpt from this book
She flung away from him and opened the glass panelled door into the orangery. The scent of citrus assaulted her nostrils at once and the heat was stifling; very much like the rage within her.
“What have I done?” Malvern demanded following her, a frown between his brows.
The greenhouse was hot and humid even with one of the windows open, and the sun beat down upon them and the sky burned bright blue through the glass roof. Beds were arranged down each side filled with orange and lemon trees and a huge grape vine covered one wall. A white painted seat was set in the middle, but it was too hot to sit there today.
“What have you done?” she repeated, laughing wildly. “You have come here, that’s what you have done!”
He stiffened, the lines of his handsome mouth compressed, and seemed momentarily incapable of a reply.
“Papa thinks you have come here specifically to make me an offer.”
“Your papa thinks it or you think it?” he asked.
“All you have done by following me here is reawaken expectations in my father’s breast,” she replied. “If you had not come, he might have eventually given up the idea and I would not now be harangued from all sides.”
“How very distressing for you.”
“You announced to Nicholas that we were engaged,” she replied, ignoring this. “And because of you and your assumption that I would be so overcome by your wealth and position that I would jump at the chance to wed you, he felt he had to offer for me and now I am engaged to him…and…and I don’t wish to be! I don’t wish to be engaged to anyone,” she said, slicing at the fronds of a palm tree with the edge of her hand. “Papa says that I have to marry you. And I won’t. He cannot make me.”
The Duke stood stock still.
“Oh why did you come here?” she complained; sweat glistening across her brow, her chin, and the hollows of her collar bone. “You’ve ruined everything.”
“I came because Marcus invited me,” he replied stiffly.
“And I just happened to be here?”
He looked surprised. “Yes, you happened to be here. You flatter yourself if you think I came here merely to see you.”
She stiffened. “Didn’t you?”
He shook his head in laughing disbelief. “Dear God, the attention you have excited at a few parties has gone to your head,” he said scathingly. “Just because you have all the fortune hunters and fops of London at your feet, don’t think to put me there also. You are not the only pretty girl of my acquaintance.”
She turned away to hide her face. “No indeed, you have hoards of pretty girls swooning at your feet, don’t you?” she retorted. “And you cannot stand it that I am not one of them.”
“This is laughable. What is the matter with you? What has happened to make you rip up at me like this?”
“You come here, following me from pillar to post around the country like some…some lap-dog, hoping that I will take pity on you and accept you,” she continued, swiping angrily at an overhanging orange blossom.
“Lap-dog?” he repeated furiously.
“Or are you hoping that I will finally give in to my father’s demands and that he will bludgeon me into accepting you? Well I can tell you now, I will not!”
The muscles in his jaw clenched tight with anger. “I do not need your father to fight my battles for me.”
“Then why else are you here? Nicholas says you are always sniffing round me.”
“I might have known he would have something to say on the matter,” the Duke snapped. “Do you have a thought in your head that was not put there by him?”
“How dare you? At least he doesn’t treat me as if it is his right to have me!” she flashed, her eyes sparkling with anger.
“Indeed? Have I not been brought up to expect that it is my right, that your family and mine would be allied by our marriage?” he asked, his voice icy with disdain.
“Yes, but that was my sister and she married Mr Trent. I am not my sister and not bound by those promises. You have no right to me.”
He stripped her bare with his eyes. “You speak as if you are something quite out of the common way, as if you are a great prize and I should count myself fortunate to be allowed to pay you my addresses! I am only a Duke after all! You value your own worth too highly, madam.”
She blushed, shamefaced. “And you value your worth too high. You speak of a marriage as if you can just pick a woman off a shelf. Two a penny are they, to a great man like you? You care not whom they are, as long as they are fit for breeding.”
He laughed scornfully. “You talk very freely of breeding, ma’am. I would have thought a twenty-year-old chit from the schoolroom would have shown a little more modesty.”
She flung up her hands. “Oh yes, modesty. Why not preach to me of duty as well? And respectability and virtue. You sound like my father. I might have known that you would preach something as dull as that. We cannot have a young lady who shows any emotion, can we? We cannot talk of love or feelings or passion. You are so stiff and starched I wonder if you have ever let yourself go. I’ll wager you even make love with your coat buttoned up.”
“What do you know about making love?” he asked, his eyes raking her up and down. “A schoolroom miss who’s barely been kissed? Don’t make me laugh.”
“I know more than you!”
“Indeed?” he replied frigidly. “I am sure your father would be very interested to hear it. I think the Earl of Crowborough would be mortified to learn that his daughter has already parted company with her virtue.”
She stared at him in confusion. “You mistake me. I was talking about feelings of the heart and love―things that you apparently think unimportant.”
“I am relieved to hear it!” he said. “There is a good deal of difference between feeling love and making love I assure you. You do yourself no favours in speaking about things which you do not understand.”
“I do understand. I am not a child.”
He laughed scornfully. “No, you’re not a child…not much…if I made love to you right now you’d run a mile.”
“Would I? How do you know I would?”
He appeared momentarily lost for words.
“Do I shock you?” she taunted. “Are your aristocratic sensibilities offended?”
“Hardly,” he replied. “It would take a good deal more than that I assure you.”
“So speaks the man of experience. For you have a hundred years more experience than I, don’t you? You are a man of the world who has loved many women and I am just a child; you had better confine me to the nursery where I belong. Which makes a match between us more than ridiculous, it makes it sordid. Everyone thinks you are old enough to be my father.”
“Thank you for that!” he replied caustically.
“Well, you are! And you treat me as if you are my father,” she cried. “You ask me to take a ride on your horse and go out for a drive with you as if it’s a high treat. I wonder that you don’t buy me dolls and hoops and offer to show me my sums too. You look upon me as your niece or your daughter when all I want from you―”
She broke off in confusion, blushing profusely.
“All you want from me is what?” he demanded, scowling.
“Nothing,” she said in a small voice, playing with the ribbons on her gown.
“I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Well you did, so come on, tell me. All you want from me is what?”
“Is…is…oh hang it all…is to be kissed!” she said, her voice shaking with passion.
The above is copyrighted material and an excerpt from “A Gentleman and a Scoundrel”, available now on Amazon, Apple and other formats.