on November 15th 2016
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After five years on the Marriage Mart, Miss Aquilla Knox is ready for spinsterhood until a benefactress steps in to help her secure a husband. Only Aquilla doesn’t actually want to marry—her failure is entirely on purpose. When the earl she’s nicknamed the Duke of Deception sets his sights on her, she refuses to be drawn in by her attraction to him. If there’s one thing she knows it’s that a gentleman is never what he seems.
Edward Bishop, Earl of Sutton, has a reputation for courting young misses and dropping them without a second thought. This has earned him a reputation for deceit, a description he can’t refute because he does in fact, harbor secrets and will do anything—deceive anyone—to ensure they don’t come to light. As he comes to know the charming Miss Knox, his resolve is tested. However, trust comes at a price and Ned won’t pay with his heart.
“Did you come to take Miss Knox on a promenade?” Lady Satterfield asked, prompting him before he could ask.
“Indeed I did.” He looked to Miss Knox to gauge her reaction.
Her eyes still possessed a somewhat guarded look, but she was quick to respond. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
He barely presented his arm before she clasped it, and they were on their way. He noticed she didn’t even look at her mother. Her grip was tight; she was nearly clenching his forearm. “Why do I have the feeling I’ve rescued you?” he asked softly.
Her hold loosened. “You saved me from my mother. Oh, damnation, I didn’t mean to say that. Nor did I mean to say damnation.” She shook her head and breathed, “Damnation.”
Ned suppressed a smile. “Your secret is safe with me, on all counts.”
She looked up at him from beneath the brim of her bonnet. It was ivory and decorated with yellow flowers and a dark coral ribbon. “Is it?”
He laid his free hand over his heart. “On my honor.” They walked in silence for a moment. He began to wonder if there was some rift between her and her parents and that was why they’d stopped funding her Seasons. Since he preferred a wife who wasn’t particularly close to her family, this suited him just fine. However, he was bothered by it troubling Miss Knox. Which it clearly did. “Why do you need saving from your mother?”
“I don’t. Not really. I just… We aren’t close.”
“I see. I admit I did wonder why you’re sponsored by Lady Satterfield. Why isn’t your mother here with you in Town? Is she ill?”
“No.” She seemed to hesitate before adding, “She doesn’t like London.”
He wasn’t sure if that was the truth—or at least the entire truth—but he didn’t want to press her. “I hope you don’t mind my asking. Like you, I’ve no interest in gossip. I’m merely trying to get to know you better.”
“Yes, to see if we’ll suit.”
He still couldn’t tell if she returned his interest. “I’m sorry to hear you and your mother are estranged. Both of my parents are dead. I miss them.” He kept his gaze trained straight ahead.
“How long have they been gone?” Her query was soft, comforting.
“About thirteen years for my mother and about eight for my father.” While he missed them both, the emotion was tainted. They’d both changed so much after George’s illness had struck. Especially his father. By the time Father had died, they were barely speaking. “It’s odd because we look up to them—our parents—so much, but in the end, they’re just people.”
Her gait slowed, and she turned her head to look at him. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. I don’t really look up to mine, however.” She winced, and he could see she wanted to take that back.
He stopped, turning toward her. “It’s all right,” he said. “Our secret.” He glanced around. “No one can hear us. Feel free to tell me your heart’s deepest desire.” He hadn’t meant for that to sound provocative or for it to generate heat in his belly, but it did. Her eyes flashed with something that kindled that warmth, and now he wouldn’t regret it either.
“I just want to be free.” It came out as a whisper and was instantly carried away on the breeze. She lowered her gaze. “But I know that’s a ridiculous notion. No one—no woman, anyway—is ever truly free.”
No man either. Everyone had obligations, commitments, loyalties. Well, he supposed some didn’t. He wasn’t free by any means, but he wouldn’t trade it. He wouldn’t trade George.
“Free is a state of mind, I think. Like you said, no one is truly free, and I’m not sure I’d want to be. I like being tied to things. To people.” He looked at her intently, thinking he might like being tied to her. All sorts of lurid images invaded his mind.
She returned his gaze without flinching, stoking the flame inside him. “What of your heart’s deepest desire?”
“I’m still trying to find it.”