An excerpt from this book
She took a deep breath; the breeze ruffled the curls about her face. “I—I will marry you,” she stammered, reddening as she spoke. So much for subtlety, she thought. So much for carefully choosing her words, for playing him into offering for her again. She had panicked and in her panic had blurted out the very words she swore she would not.
Mr Ashworth raised one haughty brow. “I beg your pardon?”
“I said I will marry you.”
“I am not deaf, madam, I heard what you said. What you fail to grasp is that I have not yet asked you to marry me.”
She whirled around, her face flushed. “But you did! In the drawing room!”
“And that was one month ago and you refused me. I have not, I believe, made a renewal of my offer.”
If it was possible for Emma to redden further, she did it. “But—”
“But what, my Lady?” he asked, sounding bored.
“Are you telling me you are retracting your offer?”
“There is no offer. You turned me down in no uncertain terms. I took you at your word.”
“Oh, this can’t be happening!”
“I’m very much afraid it is happening. I am not the man to stand by and be humiliated at the whim of a spoiled baby.”
“You have to marry me,” she declared.
“I don’t have to do anything of the sort.”
“But you said I had to!”
“Yes, I did. And I still think you should have accepted my offer. But you told me that heaven and earth would not persuade you to enter into such a relationship with me. So, there we are.”
“But what am I to do?”
“I have no notion and I am happy to say that it is no longer my concern,” Mr Ashworth said as he stood and walked towards her. “Now if you have said all you wished to say, I have business in town, so with your permission I will take my leave of you. I wish you good day, ma’am.”
He turned to walk away but Emma seized his arm. “Mr Ashworth, please. I am sorry. If you want my apology you have it.”
“Apology accepted,” he said with a small bow. “Now if you’ll excuse me—”
“Do you want me to beg, is that it? Would you see me on my knees?” She tightened her grip on his arm. “Please sir, I implore you.”
He looked down at her graceful hand on the sleeve of his coat. “Please have the goodness to release my coat from your clutches; you are creasing it.”
“Oh, hang your horrid coat!”
Mr Ashworth’s brows rose. “This is not a horrid coat. Why does everyone think my coat is fair game for their insults? It has served me well; I like it and it’s comfortable.”
“So, I’m sure, is a smock,” she said witheringly. “Can we please stop talking about your wretched coat? Don’t you understand? I am ruined!” she cried.
“So I gather,” he said, at his most bored.
“Oh, you are so cold! So heartless! Do you not care for anyone but yourself?”
“Not if I can help it.”
She flung away from him and buried her face in her hands.
“Go then!” she sobbed. “You care not for my reputation. You care not that I shan’t be able to hold my head up again in society.”
He frowned. “I offered you the protection of my name and you flung it back in my face.”
“I was wrong!” she said with such anguish in her voice that Mr Ashworth relented a little.
He took a few steps towards her. “Been having a rough time of it, have you? Have the tattle-mongers found a new victim?” he asked.
“Oh go away!”
He took another step towards her. “Poor damsel in distress?”
“Much you care,” she retorted.
He paused, thinking, his hands behind his back. “I have a suggestion.”
“If you are going to be cold and rude and insulting, then I wish you would go away—!”
“Do you wish to hear my suggestion or not?”
She was quelled slightly by the note of authority in his voice, which reminded her of one particularly daunting governess she’d had as a child. She sniffed.
Their eyes met. “I will renew my offer, but I want payment for it.”
He shook his head, smiling. “Not money.”
She frowned. “What then?”
Mr Ashworth took another step towards her. “A kiss.”
Emma stared at him. “Have you lost your mind?”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “Perhaps. A kiss for my offer. What do you say?”
Emma choked. “You are insufferable!”
“I know,” he agreed with a sympathetic smile. “Well?”
“No!” she cried indignantly.
“Very well then, I bid you good day, ma’am.” He bowed and started to move away.
Emma bit her lip. She really didn’t have a choice. “Wait.”
Mr Ashworth halted and turned slowly back towards her, a look of amusement in his eyes. “Do we have an agreement, ma’am?”
“Yes, rot you.”
“Such language, my Lady. I’m shocked,” he said, gently taking her into his arms.
“Please, just do what you must to me and then release me.”
“Now there is a thought. . . .”
“Mr Ashworth, you had best hurry up before I change my mind—”
Emma found herself unable to breathe while she was being held so tightly in his arms. Her hands were trapped between them, laid upon his chest, her lips parted in slight surprise and her gaze locked with his. This pose, had she but known it, was one which Mr Ashworth found utterly irresistible.
“I will make you suffer for this,” she said darkly and with a glorious heat in her cheeks.
“I have no doubt of it,” he murmured.
The above is copyrighted material and an excerpt from “The Honourable Gentleman”, available now on Amazon.