Published by Smashwords Edition on November 21st 2016
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Esther Whitton has gladly spent the last few months enjoying the quiet calmness of a Yorkshire winter, devouring books and attempting to keep herself from falling for a man she knows she can never have. But when her Great-uncle Danby announces they’re all going to London for the Season, she decides it’s time to step out of her comfort zone and follow her heart before it’s given away to another.
Timothy Hargood knows his place is in servitude, and therefore pining after a woman destined to be the wife of a peer is completely pointless. But when she makes the first advances, how can he resist?
Star-crossed from the start, this unlikely pair must try to find a way to be together, even if it means thwarting the all-powerful Duke of Danby to do so.
As soon as she closed the door behind her, Esther felt the weight of her guilt lift from her shoulders. Goodness, Leah had a remarkable talent for driving her mad. But Esther wouldn’t let it get the best of her. Her mind was made up. She didn’t want a season—she didn’t want to go to London—if she had her way, she wouldn’t leave Yorkshire at all. She just had to find a good reason to stay here.
She scurried to the staircase and descended to the lower level in search of Duncan. No doubt he was polishing the silver or taking stock of the wines, or some other such—
“Ow!” Esther stumbled back a couple of paces, clutching her forehead, as if it might stop the throbbing. “What in the—”
“Oh, dear God,” came a deep, rumbling voice. The very voice that made her heart stop whenever she heard it.
Esther tried to breathe in air, but it seemed she had temporarily forgotten how to do such a simple, natural thing.
“Miss Whitton, are you all right? What an oaf I am, rushing through these narrow corridors. Please…let me look at it.”
His hand—his large, uncalloused, gentle hand—touched to hers, causing Esther at first to flinch, and then stiffen as her mind and body swirled with a million emotions. Heavens, how did he do this to her? How could she let him? Even if he did return her affections, they could never, ever be. At least, not as long as the Duke of Danby, or any of her relations, for that matter, were alive. She was the great niece of a duke—her blood ran blue—and his…
“Does it hurt?” he asked. He was so close, his lips were but a hairsbreadth away as he studied her forehead.
“Erm…only a little,” Esther managed to breathe out. And then his eyes met hers, officially stealing the very last breath from her body.
“It’s only a little red,” he murmured. “No bump yet.”
His thumb caressed her forehead oh, so tenderly as he searched for a protrusion. Good heavens, she was going to melt into the ground if she wasn’t careful. Trying to snap herself out of the trance he’d put her in, she glanced up to look at his forehead.
“Oh, Timothy!” she exclaimed, and then remembering what she was about, said, “I mean, Hargood, of course. Erm, you seem to have gotten the brunt of our collision.” A sizeable lump protruded from the left side of his forehead. “Or perhaps it is true what my brother says about me.”
“And what is that?” Timothy asked, still too close, his voice still a gentle purr that threatened to drive her to the brink of madness.
“That I am rather bullheaded.”
At this, Timothy burst into laughter, causing his hazel eyes to shimmer with mirth. It warmed Esther from the inside out. She’d never made a man laugh—not like this, anyhow. It didn’t even matter that it was sort of at her expense. It felt good to not take herself so very seriously for once.
“Well, do you think that’s true?” he asked as his laughter died down.
Esther shrugged. “I suppose so, especially when it comes to propriety. I do think rules are important to a society—and to an individual, for that matter.”
Timothy’s gaze grew dark, and his eyes narrowed just a hair. “And are they never, ever to be broken?”
Something about the way he asked that question—the tone in his voice, the gleam in his eyes—made her wonder if he didn’t only mean rules in general, but more specifically. And if more specifically…?
No, she couldn’t let herself wonder about that. Because she did mean in general and on most things there were no exceptions, no matter what her heart might say about it.
“Only very rarely, Hargood,” she said, sucking in a deep breath and steeling her spine. If she didn’t steel herself against him, she’d fall headlong into his arms, especially if he kept staring at her that way. As if he wanted to kiss her, for heaven’s sake!
“Well, I think we’re all good here,” she chirped, side-stepping him and backing away as if he were a lion whom she feared might pounce. “I believe Gabriel will be expecting you soon. I’ve probably already kept you too long. I do hope your head feels better!”
She rounded the corner out of sight and then collapsed with her back against the plaster wall of the small foyer. She sucked in deep breaths, trying to get the air to fill her lungs completely, for she felt as if she hadn’t taken a proper breath in minutes. How had this happened? How had she fallen for someone she couldn’t possibly have?
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