Published by Entangled Publishing on June 25, 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
If Mary Babington-Smith knows nothing else, it's that Lord Edwin Sutton kissed her. Regardless of who-kissed-whom, with the deed witnessed, they have no choice but to carry on with a temporary, fake, engagement. When Edwin sweetens the deal, offering Mary the money she needs to pursue her independence if she can play the lovesick fiancée for two weeks, Mary rises to the challenge. In two weeks, she'll have everything she wants, and this time she'll be the one to walk out of his life.
Despite Sutton's argumentative, self-assured nature, when Mary glimpses a sliver of the boy he used to be, she vows to peel away every layer of armor he uses to shield his emotions. Somewhere underneath that worldly exterior is the kind-hearted man she once loved, but in order to find him, she'll have to give him the power to hurt her...and he's already broken her trust once...
I danced through the downpour, holding a shawl over my head to keep my intricate hairdo from wilting. The driver hurried to position the steps below the coach door. I accepted his help to mount the steps, thanking him as I paused in the threshold. The interior smelled of wet leather with the faint undertone of cedar. Edwin’s hulking shadow, his hat on his lap due to the low ceiling, was squished into the side of the carriage facing forward.
I liked to face forward. I waited, rain trickling down the back of my neck, but he didn’t move.
Inching forward, I lingered long enough for him to scoot to the side to make room for me to pass, then squeezed myself in next to him.
We pressed together from thigh to shoulder. Well, my shoulder. I only reached midway up his arm.
Shadows decorated the carriage, but I heard the scowl in his voice when he exclaimed, “Bloody hell, Mary. Take the other seat.”
“No. I like to face forward.”
“Well, so do I.”
Our gazes met, sparking light in the darkness as the driver shut the door. The shutters were pulled tight over the window to keep out the rain. Droplets splattered the carriage. The air inside grew thick. Edwin sat so close to me, his breath fanned my forehead.
The carriage lurched into motion.
“You won’t back down from this, will you?”
“Do I ever?”
With a grumble emphasizing his reluctance, Edwin shifted in his spot. He used the motion of the conveyance to propel him to the other side.
Now only our knees brushed. Cooler air washed my right side, a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. He’d given up far too easily. With a sigh, I settled back into the squabs.
“You look ridiculous,” he said bluntly.
My back stiffened. “How can you tell? It’s black as night in here.”
“I saw you when you entered. You look a fright.”
I raised my hand to brush my cheek, then my hair. Had I erred? “A fine thing for a man to say to his future wife.”
He groaned. “Don’t remind me. We still have an entire evening ahead.”
“Then you’d best make an effort to dote upon me or else no one will believe we’re to be married.”
Edwin chuckled. “I’m fairly certain if any man tried to dote on you, you’d punch him in the face.”
A smile teased the corners of my mouth, but I didn’t let it out. “I promise not to do you physical harm tonight. Though you might start off on a better foot by complimenting what I’m wearing.”
“How can I? You’re smothered in ribbons!”
“I have one.” Come to think of it, I shared his aversion.
“And one in your hair. And, who knows where else, probably on your stockings, too.”
I laughed. “Why would I put ribbons on my stockings? You aren’t going to see them there.”
“Please tell me this isn’t for my benefit.”
My smile slipped. “Certainly not. I wore the ribbons for me.”
“But you hate ribbons. And most other feminine frippery. Are you wearing rouge tonight?”
My stomach flipped. He remembered? I used to rage about the dresses I had to wear as a child. I swallowed, trying to maintain a cool mien.
“I am. I can look feminine too, sometimes. It’s not against the law.”
For a long moment, the silence stretched thin. What was he thinking? Perhaps he agreed with the gossips of the ton, who whispered that no man would ever find me attractive because I refused to act demure.
I don’t care either way. But my stomach swished with every jolt of the carriage, waiting for his answer.
Finally, he said, “No. It’s not. But I prefer you as you are, without artifice.”