Take one Marquess: responsible, worldly, deadly dull but concealing an artist’s soul.
Add one rebellious, brilliantly creative but lonely young lady who craves love, home and family.
Combine with ill-assorted guests at an ill-fated house party hosted by a dowager with a poison tongue and a penchant for scandal.
You’ll be shaken, you’ll be stirred, you’ll laugh and you’ll swoon—most of all you’ll be tossed into an intriguing Victorian love story that you’ll never want to leave.
“George, why are you staring at me?”
He didn’t realize he had fallen down a rabbit hole of thought. A mental leather strap slapped his wrist, and he hastened to cover his slip. “I’m thinking about what kind of husband would suit you.”
“You mean what kind of husband would suit you for me? Does England have a bachelor diplomat in Siberia or Bangkok?”
“You may laugh, but now is your chance. What kind of man do you desire? What respectable man’s society would represent the pinnacle of your existence so that I may find a genteel version of him for you? Or you can leave me to my own devices. Tell me, how do you feel about musty cigars or reading religious tracts?” He casually chuckled to hide his curiosity. If she had ever fancied a man, she had never told him about it. He wondered what she found desirable.
“You’re a bachelor and a marquess. It’s more important for you to marry than me, so you can get busy creating a little marquess, and spare marquesses and daughters to barter for powerful clanlike alliances. Tell me what kind of wife you desire.”
“No more games, Lilith. It’s your future we are deciding.”
“It’s not a game. You tell me about you, and I’ll tell you about me. A fair trade.”
“Very well.” He stopped walking. Behind him, ducks skimmed along the water’s surface.
“I prefer…” He paused. On the tip of his tongue was Colette. But he wouldn’t admit he desired a fictional character. That bit of lunacy he kept to himself. “I prefer…a gentle lady possessing pleasing manners and a clear mind,” he said. “She must be charming but never vulgar. She must never embarrass me but assert herself in quiet ways.”
This was harder than he thought. He couldn’t explain that what he wanted was a woman to hold him safe to her body, soothe the restlessness inside him, say the words he couldn’t express, tell him that she loved him only and fully. Instead, he said, “She should be tasteful and understated in her appearance.”
The edge of Lilith’s mouth hiked up in a way that said Are you jesting? “I’m shocked that you are not already married. There are many eligible ladies, as well as sofas, chairs, and ornamental rugs that fit that description.”
“I answered your question,” he said hotly. “And you mocked me.”
She flinched as if he had stung her. When would he ever learn to stop playing her games? He was so busy mentally berating himself that he almost didn’t hear her speak. She was using that unsettling quiet voice again. “I prefer a man who is kind.”
“Merely kind? Not wildly romantic? Handsome in a severe Gothic manner? Brooding? Poetic—a modern Keats? A misunderstood artist?”
“You don’t know me at all.” The wind blew a strand of hair across her mouth. Again he felt the sensation that he was staring at one of those insane Impressionists’ paintings. All the beauty and light assaulted his senses.
“Kindness,” she continued, “loyalty, and a home.”
“Only kindness, loyalty, and a home?”
She thought for a few seconds more. He could see the machinations of her mysterious mind working behind her eyes. “Yes.”
“What about love?”
“I didn’t realize it was in the offering.”
“It could be. I could introduce you to a brooding poet of excellent breeding, competent accounting skills, and deep funds, and you could fall madly in love with him. And then you would have me to thank.”
She walked on. “I think your definition of love and mine are very different.”
“What is your definition?”
“You wouldn’t understand, and you would mock me if I tried to explain.”
He clasped her elbow, halting her progress. “I promise to be deadly serious.”
She clutched her book tighter. On the river, a male duck raised high in the water and beat his wings to challenge another duck. George studied her as she watched the ensuing water fight and heated pursuit across the river.
“I’ll just take kindness and loyalty in a husband,” she said, still looking out at the river. “He must pro- vide me a home, a true home, and he can’t leave me.”
“You should have told me this earlier. There are many more-than-suitable gentlemen who meet the bare requisites.”
“Are there?” she whispered, no hint of the usual derision in her voice. When she turned her head, her large eyes earnest, the tears were starting to collect in the corners. He felt her pain in his own heart again. He longed to hold her, comfort her. Good God, this woman lit up his emotions. One minute he was furious at her and the next filled with sadness.
About the Author
Susanna Ives started writing when she left her job as a multimedia training developer to stay home with her family. Now she keeps busy driving her children to various classes, writing books, and maintaining websites. She often follows her husband on business trips around Europe and blogs about the misadventures of touring with children. She lives in Atlanta.