Published by Parchment & Plume LLC on August 2, 2016
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
After being thrown over for the second time in one Season, Mr. Simon Appleton’s interest in courting another young lady is less than his interest in reconciling with his estranged brother.
Entering into her third, and dare she hope final Season, Miss Henrietta Hughes has a single goal: make it to August without becoming engaged, thus securing her sister’s promise of being allowed to become a spinster.
But with the most scandalous woman to ever step foot in London acting as Henrietta’s chaperone and Simon’s undeniable urge to vex her every chance he’s afforded, they both might find themselves with new plans.
“Are you sure this is Lord Drakely’s estate?” Simon asked his coachman as he peered through the window of his travel coach. Sure, there was plenty of dust coating the small window above the door, but not enough to distort his view enough to make the large, sprawling mansion he assumed a viscount as wealthy as Lord Drakely lived in appear like a small, crumbling cottage in desperate need of being torn down post haste.
“Aye,” his coachman said. He jumped down and wrenched open the door for Simon.
Taking a deep breath, Simon climbed down then brushed the travel dust from his chocolate brown suit. He squinted at the house again and frowned. If Simon didn’t know any better he’d think his coachman had an opium habit. This could not be a lord’s house. He nearly snorted. This couldn’t be anyone’s house.
“I think you’d better take me—”
A loud, high-pitched squeal followed by an even louder splash took away his words.
Simon snapped his head in the direction of the commotion and set off into a run as fast as his feet could carry him across the low grass. He hurdled a large rock one moment then dodged a tree in his way a few feet later only to then jump over a fallen log.
Then came to an abrupt halt.
There, not ten feet in front of where he stood by the fallen log, was a decidedly female form swimming in a pond.
Well, not exactly. She did have on a shift. The realization eased his conscience marginally.
Simon swallowed, which was terribly hard to do considering he hadn’t yet caught his breath.
He knew he needed to leave, but his confounded legs had turned to lead and wouldn’t cooperate, keeping him rooted in a prime peeping position.
In the water, the young woman swam forward, then reached the water’s edge and flipped over onto her back, giving Simon an unobstructed view of both of her pert, pink-tipped breasts covered only in the barest of transparent fabric.
Without realizing it, Simon took a step forward. Snap.
“Who’s there?” the beautiful young woman called, not a hint of worry or distress in her tone.
Simon’s blood thundered in his ears and he cursed his booted foot for not being more careful. Did she not care she had an audience as long as she knew whom her audience consisted of?
Before he could speak, he heard, “Charlie, is that you?”
Not sure if he felt more at ease that she didn’t mind a male audience or uncomfortable that Charlie must be lurking around somewhere, Simon stood rooted in place, unable to take his eyes from her perfect form. Somewhere buried deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down inside, a little voice whispered he needed to leave. He quieted that voice with another slow sweep of her form.
Something was different about her tone this time, something that suddenly made his mouth run independently of his brain. “No, it’s Simon.”
A not-so-delicate and decidedly startled scream filled the air as she flipped over and moved to be under the water enough that only her head was visible. Pity.
“Who the devil is Simon and why is he watching me bathe?”
A large air bubble lodged in his throat. He coughed it down. Or would that be up? “I’ve come to deliver some documents and…” He trailed off with a shrug.
“Thought you’d sneak a peek, did you?” Her tone was sharper than the tip of his rapier.
“Well, you were offering it,” he retorted in hopes of staving off any of his newfound embarrassment at being chastised.
“I wasn’t offering you or anyone a peek.”
“And what of Charlie?”
“It’s short for Charlotte! My maid.”
Shame flooded Simon in waves. “I—I’m sorry. I just assumed…”
“Assumed what? That since you’re of a higher station than me, you could take advantage of the situation?” The amount of venom in her tone could kill a rhinoceros in less than three seconds.
Her blue eyes bored into his. “Well then, explain yourself.”
“I heard a scream,” he said, his mind racing. “I came to make sure everything was all right—”
“And when you saw something you liked, you took that as an invitation to stay.” Either tears or hysteria filled her voice; unfortunately for him, he couldn’t place which.
Simon frowned, but he couldn’t deny her charge. “My apologies.”
“Are unwelcome, but your absence is.”
And with such sweet parting words, Simon spun on his heel, marched up to the house, delivered the papers to the butler (after confirming this ramshackle old shack was indeed Lord Drakely’s residence), grunted as he climbed into the carriage, slammed the door himself then vowed he’d never again speak to that wretched young lady.